What Are Phrases?

Phrases are important units of language that we use all of the time. Do you know what they are?

Phrases are groups of words, without both a subject and a verb, functioning as a single part of speech.

This means that while a phrase is made up of multiple words (all of which have their own function), all of the words work together to perform one larger function.

There are many different kinds of phrases, and we're going to explore quite a few of them. Are you ready? Great!

Phrases: The Basics

Here is a brief overview of each phrase and its diagramming basics.

You can also see more diagramming on the diagramming phrases page.

Prepositional Phrases

These function as adjectives or adverbs.

There are two prepositional phrases in the example below.

The cake with nuts fell onto the floor.

With nuts is a prepositional phrase that is acting as an adjective. You can tell that it's an adjective because the word with is branching off of the noun cake. (You remember that adjectives modify nouns and pronouns, right?)

Onto the floor is a prepositional phrase that is acting as an adverb. You can tell that it's an adverb because the word onto is branching off of the verb fell. (You remember that adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs, right?)

Are you wondering how to diagram prepositional phrases? I thought so. I have a knack for reading people's minds. Click on that link to learn more.

Learn more about prepositional phrases here.

Verb Phrases

These function as verbs. Keep in mind that in order to be a verb phrase, the verb must be made up of a main verb and at least one helping verb.

She must have jumped across the stream.

Must and have are helping verbs. Jumped is a main verb.

Learn more about verb phrases here.

Appositive Phrases

The appositive is a noun that renames another noun or pronoun. The appositive phrase is the appositive and all of its modifiers.

In the example below, sister is the appositive which is renaming Esther, and my little sister with dark hair is the appositive phrase.

Esther, my sister with dark hair, sang a song.

Learn more about appositive phrases here.


The following three phrases (gerunds, participles, and infinitives) are called verbals. This is because they are formed from verbs. (But be careful! They don't function as verbs)

Gerund Phrases

These function as nouns. They always end in -ing.

I like swimming in lakes.

Swimming in lakes is a gerund phrase functioning as the direct object of the verb like.

Learn more about gerunds and gerund phrases here.

Participial Phrases

These act as adjectives. They end in -ing, -d, -t, or -n.

Throwing rocks across the water, my friend smiled.

Throwing rocks across the water is a participial phrase modifying the noun friend.

Learn more about participles and participial phrases here.

Dangling Participles

Learn about dangling participles and why you should avoid them.

Infinitive Phrases

These act as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. They begin with to + a verb. Sometimes they have a "silent to". By that, I mean that sometimes the word to is implied.

I swore to tie my shoes tighter in the future.

To tie my shoes tighter in the future is an infinitive phrase functioning as the direct object of the verb swore.

Learn more about infinitives and infinitive phrases here.

If you want to teach or learn grammar the easy way, then follow a step-by-step program that clearly lays everything out for you and allows you to move at your own pace. The Get Smart program is presented in a logical sequence, so it's not an overwhelming mishmash of information. Before you know it, you'll be a grammar and sentence diagramming pro!

The whole program is online, so you have instant access to these lessons and videos. It's easy and fun. You can get it at www.English-Grammar-Revolution.com/daily-diagrams.html
Grammar Revolution Get Smart Program
Keep learning and have fun!

Elizabeth O'Brien is the creator of Grammar Revolution.

Her lessons are guaranteed to give you more confidence in your communication skills and make you smile. :)

To get your free guide and receive Elizabeth's bi-weekly lessons on improving your grammar and having fun, enter your info below!

First Name

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Diagram It.

Understand English phrases? Learn about the types of sentences.

Back to English Grammar Home Page