A phrase is a group of related words that form a single unit, but do not contain a subject and a verb.
Some examples of phrases include:
A swarm of bees
has been to London
in the valley
Phrases are categorized as noun phrases, verb phrases, adjectival phrases, adverbial phrases and prepositional phrases to name a few, based on their structure and also the role or grammatical category they represent.
Usually, there is a single key-word which dominates the phrase and it decides the type of phrase. The rest of the words depend on this single word.
A swarm of bees is a noun phrase and the word swarm – a noun – is the dominant word in the phrase. The phrase names a particular thing and so it performs the role of a noun.
A swarm of bees descended on the village.
Here the noun phrase acts as the subject in the sentence, and hence it is a subject phrase.
The villagers saw a swarm of bees.
Here the noun phrase acts as the object of the verb saw in the sentence; hence it is an object phrase.
He has been to London recently.
has been is the verb phrase.
He would have been here if not for the huge traffic jam. (Verb phrase highlighted)
It was a very bright star that shone from the heavens above.
In the above example, very bright, is an adjectival phrase describing the noun star.
He ran too fast, and so they could not catch him.
too fast is the adverbial phrase describing how he ran.
The forests in the valley were green and virgin.
in the valley is a prepositional phrase, as it gives the position of the noun in relation to the rest of the constituents of the sentence.
The following sentence contains all the types of phrases.
He saw a swarm of bees deep in the valley, and they were flying too fast to be noticed against the background of bright green trees.
There are few more types of phrases, based on the grammatical categories such as participial phrase, gerund phrase, infinitive phrase, and a few more, which we shall see later.