Tips for turning a phrase

A phrase is a group of words without a subject and verb, used as one part of speech. Phrases are often shorter than clauses, but certainly as important.

A prepositional phrase consists of the preposition, its object, and modifiers of that object. "Behind the old red barn" and "through the whirling lawn sprinklers" are examples.

This prepositional phrase is a modifier used either as an adjective ("Karla is the worker with the most potential.") or an adverb ("Megan placed small gifts beside each cup.").

If multiple prepositional phrases are used together, they may all modify the same word ("They arrived at the airport on time and with their luggage."). All phrases modify arrived.

They can also modify different words ("Amy stood anxiously in the line for school students."). The phrase “in the line” modifies stood, while “for school students” modifies line.

Have you heard of the gerund phrase? That unusual sounding word simply means one that ends in –ing and is used as a noun ("Running through the neighborhood is his morning routine."). "Running" is a gerund used as the subject of the verb "is." In "We enjoyed picnicking on the island," picnicking is the object of the verb "enjoyed."

Then comes the infinitive phrase, which always begins with "to." The phrase consists of to, the infinitive, its complements, and its modifiers ("Jane was careful to check her test answers twice.").

Another oddly named phrase is the participial phrase. Usually beginning with the participle, it also consists of its modifiers and its complements. The participle itself ends either with –ing or –ed ("Angered by unfair rules, the employees decided to strike" and "We stood in a very long, slow line, hoping to get tickets for the show.").

There is also the appositive phrase. An appositive is a word placed after another word to explain or identify it: "The instructor, a fit and trim woman, explained each move." The appositive always appears after the word it explains or identifies. It and the word it explains are always nouns or pronouns.

Whatever type of phrase or combination of phrases you use, make them work for you. Always turn a phrase … into a delightfully descriptive piece of your communication.

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years. If you have grammar questions, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net.

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