More Phrase Types
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Just as a noun functions as the Head of a noun phrase, a verb functions as the Head of a verb phrase, and an adjective functions as the Head of an adjective phrase, and so on. We recognise five phrase types in all: 


Phrase Type



Noun Phrase Noun [the children in class 5]
Verb Phrase Verb [play the piano]
Adjective Phrase Adjective [delighted to meet you]
Adverb Phrase Adverb [very quickly]
Prepositional Phrase Preposition [in the garden]


For convenience, we will use the following abbreviations for the phrase types:


Phrase Type Abbreviation
Noun Phrase
Verb Phrase
Adjective Phrase
Adverb Phrase
Prepositional Phrase


Using these abbreviations, we can now label phrases as well as bracket them. We do this by putting the appropriate label inside the opening bracket:

[NP the small children in class 5]

Now we will say a little more about each of the five phrase types.


Noun Phrase (NP)

As we've seen, a noun phrase has a noun as its Head. Determiners and adjective phrases usually constitute the pre-Head string:

[NP the children]
[NP happy children]
[NP the happy children]

In theory at least, the post-Head string in an NP can be indefinitely long:

[NP the dog that chased the cat that killed the mouse that ate the cheese that was made from the milk that came from the cow that...]

Fortunately, they are rarely as long as this in real use.

The Head of an NP does not have to be a common or a proper noun. Recall that pronouns are a subclass of nouns. This means that pronouns, too, can function as the Head of an NP:

[NP I] like coffee
The waitress gave [NP me] the wrong dessert
[NP This] is my car

If the Head is a pronoun, the NP will generally consist of the Head only. This is because pronouns do not take determiners or adjectives, so there will be no pre-Head string. However, with some pronouns, there may be a post-Head string:

[NP Those who arrive late] cannot be admitted until the interval

Similarly, numerals, as a subclass of nouns, can be the Head of an NP:

[NP Two of my guests] have arrived
[NP The first to arrive] was John


Verb Phrase (VP)

In a VERB PHRASE (VP), the Head is always a verb. The pre-Head string, if any, will be a `negative' word such as not [1] or never [2], or an adverb phrase [3]:

[1] [VP not compose an aria]
[2] [VP never compose an aria]
[3] Paul [VP deliberately broke the window]

Many verb Heads must be followed by a post-Head string:

My son [VP made a cake] -- (compare: *My son made)
We [VP keep pigeons] -- (compare: *We keep)
I [VP recommend the fish] -- (compare: *I recommend)

Verbs which require a post-Head string are called TRANSITIVE verbs. The post-Head string, in these examples, is called the DIRECT OBJECT.

In contrast, some verbs are never followed by a direct object:

Susan [VP smiled]
The professor [VP yawned]

These are known as INTRANSITIVE VERBS.

However, most verbs in English can be both transitive and intransitive, so it is perhaps more accurate to refer to transitive and intransitive uses of a verb. The following examples show the two uses of the same verb:

Intransitive: David smokes
Transitive: David smokes cigars

We will return to the structure of verb phrases in a later section.


More on Phrases...

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