LITERARY DISCOURSE: Phrases, Clauses and Sentences Part One

In a previous discussion, we attempted to understand MORPHEMES and their relevance to sentence construction. Today we examine PHRASES and CLAUSES as salient elements of a SENTENCE. STRUCTURAL and FUNCTIONAL types of sentences are other critical aspects worthy of discussion. These will help us understand sentences holistically and use them appropriately.

Learning Outcomes
By the end of this discussion, fellow students and readers are expected to improve their understanding of:

Functional and structural types of sentences.
A phrase is a group of related words without a subject and a predicate. This means that a phrase contains neither the main action (verb) nor the doer of the action (subject). Examples are: DANCING IN THE HALL, BY THE DOOR, IN THE DARK, WITH THE STUDENTS, AN ELEPHANT, INTELLIGENT STUDENT, HANDSOME MAN, BEAUTIFUL LADY, ABIGAIL’S BROTHER, WUMBEE’S UNCLE. 

Types of Phrases
Phrases, like clauses, are of many types according to their functions in sentences. Among the types are the following:

Noun phrase: a phrase that acts as a noun. A noun phrase can function as a subject,

THE SNARLING DOG strained against its chain.
Wumpini gave Rahi THE BOOK OF POEMS.
*The object of a sentence is the receiver or the bearer of the action in the sentence.

Prepositional object
The acrobat fell into THE SAFETY NET.
Gerund phrase: a phrase beginning with a gerund. A gerund is a verbal noun or a verb that functions as a noun. DANCING, EATING, and WRITING are all examples of gerund.

WRITING OF POEMS is an exciting literary activity.
RIDING A BICYCLE is a good exercise.
Infinitive phrase: a phrase that starts with an infinitive. An infinitive is a verb that has not been conjugated into any tense. So, any verb preceded by the word “to” is an infinitive. Examples are TO READ, TO SING, TO DANCE, TO WRITE. Sometimes an infinitive can exist without the word “to.” Examples: READ, SING, DANCE, WRITE.

TO ERR is inevitable in speaking and writing.
Adjectival phrase: a phrase that modifies nouns or pronouns. Participial phrases and many prepositional phrases function as adjectival phrases. They are called adjectival phrases because they have no resemblance of adjectives but function as such. See some examples below:

The actor PLAYING MARK ANTONY left much to be desired.

The car IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD has been sold.
It is important for students and readers to know the difference between an adjective phrase and an adjectival phrase. For instance, “the adjective phrase is often pre-modified by an adverb of degree plus an adjective as its headword” (Quagie, 2010:106). Below are examples:

The weather in Ghana can sometimes be EXTREMELY WARM.

Adverbial phrase: a phrase that functions as an adverb. Sometimes adverbial phrases begin with prepositions. In a like manner, when a phrase is pre-modified by an adverb of degree plus another adverb as its headword, it becomes an adverb (NOT AVERBIAL) phrase. For instance:          

Marzuqah is doing VERY WELL IN ACADEMIC WRITING – Adverb phrase.

Marzuqah is doing WELL IN ACADEMIC WRITING – adverbial phrase.

The theatre was crowded WITH THE ACTOR’S FANS – Adverbial phrase.

Prepositional phrase: a phrase made up of a preposition, its object, and its modifiers.

The roof OF THE OLD THEATRE was leaking badly.
*Modifier: a word or phrase that modifies or adds information to other parts of a sentence. Adjectives, adverbs, and many phrases and clauses are modifiers.

Limiting modifier: This is a word or phrase that limits the scope or degree of an idea. Words like ALMOST, ONLY, OR BARELY are limiting modifiers.

It is ALMOST time for dinner.
Restricting modifier: This is a phrase or clause that restricts the meaning of what it modifies and is necessary to the idea of its sentence.

Any student THAT HAS NOT DONE THE ASSIGNMENT should leave this class immediately.

Non-restricting modifier: a modifier that adds information but is not necessary to the sentence. Commas, dashes, or parentheses set apart non-restricting modifiers.

Seventeenth-century poets, MANY OF WHOM WERE ALSO DEVOUT CHRISTIANS, wrote excellent poetry.

We could hear the singing bird—A WREN, PERHAPS, OR A ROBIN—throughout the forest.

NOTE: We will have more discussion on modifiers later in this Course.

To be continued.

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