Identify the different types of Phrases – Structural and Functional.

Types of Phrases

Like other units of word classes, the phrase has its functions. The functions depend on its construction, that is, the type of words it contains. The phrase is divided into various types depending on their functions and constructions. The following are the types of phrases.


Noun Phrase

This is a group of words (or phrase) with the noun as its head (obligatory head), and one or two modifiers, examples:

  • The maid of honor
  • The tallest girl in Lagos


A noun phrase can function as the subject, object, and complement.


  • The tallest man in Lagos visited my family last week.
  • The little girl came to Nigeria last holiday.


An object of the verb

  • James adopted a dog that refused to bark.
  • Femi brought some apples.

Subject complement

  • Ngozi is a great English teacher.
  • Yinusa is a good boy.

Object complement

  • They made him their leader.
  • The class named her the best girl.

Complement of a preposition

  • Many left the briefcase on the table.
  • The dog is afraid of the lion.

Appositive in a sentence

  • The chairman, Femi Fatoye, visited the schools.
  • My friend, Mary Johnson, left Nigeria last night.



Always collocate a singular verb with a singular noun phrase:

If the headword of a noun phrase is in the singular form, the noun phrase is singular, examples:

  • A good writer does not write in unfamiliar words.
  • A hunter traps animals with bait.


Always use a plural noun phrase with a plural verb:

If the headword of a noun phrase is in its plural form, the noun phrase is     plural, examples:

  • All errors in the letter are corrected.
  • Many textbooks have been supplied to the bookshop.

Verb Phrase

A verb phrase is a multi-word verb that supplies the subject’s action or state of existence in a sentence. It contains a lexical or main verb and one or more auxiliary or helping verbs, examples:

  • had washed
  • must clean


The verb phrase can function as the predicate of a clause, verb phrase heads, modifier, and complement.


  • The journalist is writing an article.
  • The door was slammed shut by the baby.

Verb Phrase heads

  • I have borrowed.
  • It will be washed.

Noun Phrase modifier

  • I saw the man sleeping on the floor.
  • He met the man walking by the roadside.

Adjective Phrase Complement

  • You should be excited to study
  • She is curious to know why you came.

Verb Phrase complements

  • Mary intends to attend the burial ceremony.
  • The students have to pass the test.


Prepositional Phrase

The prepositional phrase is made up of the preposition (obligatory head), its complement or object, and modifiers of the object, examples:

  • It is from him.
  • Send him to the teacher.


The prepositional phrase functions as adjectives, adverbs, objects, and complements.

  • As Adjectives
  • Please read the message from Uju.
  • The man on the radio has a boring voice.


As Adverbs

  • Before the war, Okoro played football.
  • Amina lives on that bridge.

As an object of the verb

  • A beautiful car was presented to a beautiful queen.

As a Complement of the subject

  • That well-cooked jollof rice is for us at today’s party.
  • That cultured boy is for us in tomorrow’s election.


Adjectival Phrase

An adjectival phrase is a group of words headed by an adjective, examples:

  • The highly emotive actor gave a wonderful performance.
  • Everyone was extremely delighted.



Adjectival phrase functions as an adjective. It modifies the noun or noun phrase.

Modify the noun or noun phrase

  • The very small kitten jumped at the big dog.
  • The man covered with sweat trudged his way home.


Adverbial Phrase

An Adverbial phrase is a word group that acts as an adverb in a sentence. It is headed by an adverb.


Adverbial phrase modifies a verb, an adjective, another adverb, noun phrase, or prepositional phrase.

Modify verbs

  • I exercise very regularly.

Modify adjectives

  • I found it extremely difficult to talk to her.

Modify adverbs

  • He drives really carefully.

Modify noun phrase

  • That is quite a tree.

Modify prepositional phrase

  • We climbed right over the top of the hill.


Infinitive Phrase

This is the phrase with the infinitive (the headword), its object, complement and modifiers, examples:

  • To eat apples is a delight.
  • It is bad to curse your helper.



Infinitive phrase functions as subject, object, complement, and modifier.

As Subject

  • To have a job is my desire.

As object

  • It is not easy to own a house.

As complement

  • His ambition is to attain a great height.

As modifier

  • This is the woman to honor.


Participle Phrase

This is a phrase that contains the past or present participle, its modifiers, complement, and object. It has the participle as its headword, examples:

  • Having apologized, they renewed their friendship.
  • Shocked by his attitude, the principal sent him away.



There are two forms of the participle. They are the present participle and the past participle. The present participle should not be confused with the gerund. The gerund functions as a noun while the present participle functions as a verb. Also, the past participle takes the en, ed, d, (etc.) suffix.



Participle phrase functions as modifiers.

  • Having received her salary, the teacher headed to the shopping mall.
  • Shaken by his words, Mary began to cry.


Gerund phrase

This is a phrase with the gerund as the headword. It comprises a gerund, its object, and its modifier.


A gerund phrase functions as a subject, object, or complement.

As subject

  • Eating well helps one to grow up.

As complement

  • Your job is serving humanity.

As an object of a preposition

  • He is accused of lying.



  • Discuss the types of phrases.
  • Define phrase.
  • List the types of phrases.
  • Discuss the functions.
  • Give adequate examples of each type.