Introducing Phrases
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We have now completed the first level of grammatical analysis, in which we looked at words individually and classified them according to certain criteria. This classification is important because, as we'll see, it forms the basis of the next level of analysis, in which we consider units which may be larger than individual words, but are smaller than sentences. In this section we will be looking at PHRASES. 


Defining a Phrase 

When we looked at nouns and pronouns, we said that a pronoun can sometimes replace a noun in a sentence. One of the examples we used was this: 

[Children] should watch less television

~[They] should watch less television 

Here it is certainly true that the pronoun they replaces the noun children. But consider: 

[The children] should watch less television

~[They] should watch less television 

In this example, they does not replace children. Instead, it replaces the children, which is a unit consisting of a determiner and a noun. We refer to this unit as a NOUN PHRASE (NP), and we define it as any unit in which the central element is a noun. Here is another example: 

I like [the title of your book]

~I like [it] 

In this case, the pronoun it replaces not just a noun but a five-word noun phrase, the title of your book. So instead of saying that pronouns can replace nouns, it is more accurate to say that they can replace noun phrases

We refer to the central element in a phrase as the HEAD of the phrase. In the noun phrase the children, the Head is children. In the noun phrase the title of your book, the Head is title

Noun phrases do not have to contain strings of words. In fact, they can contain just one word, such as the word children in children should watch less television. This is also a phrase, though it contains only a Head. At the level of word class, of course, we would call children a plural, common noun. But in a phrase-level analysis, we call children on its own a noun phrase. This is not simply a matter of terminology -- we call it a noun phrase because it can be expanded to form longer strings which are more clearly noun phrases.

From now on in the Internet Grammar, we will be using this phrase-level terminology. Furthermore, we will delimit phrases by bracketing them, as we have done in the examples above.


More on Phrases... 

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