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2 Overview of phrases, clauses and sentences

2 Overview of phrases, clauses and sentences

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contain a finite verb and does not have a subject- predicate structure”. A phrase is

a part of a sentence. It is a group of words within a sentence that does not contain

both subject and verb and does not express a complete idea.

Here is the example: He was a bag of bones.

The part of above sentence “bag of bones” is a phrase because it does not

contain a subject or verb and does not express a complete idea. A phrase does not

include both subject and verb at the same time and does not make a complete sense,

hence a phrase can not stand as a sentence on its own.

In a phrase, the main word, or the word that is what the phrase is about, is

called the head. The other words in the phrase do the work of modifying the head.

According to Quirk and Greenbaum (1987), the common structure of phrases:

(Pre – Modifier) + Head + (Post – Modifier)

A modifier is an optional element in phrase structure. A modifier is said

to modify (change the meaning of) another element in the structure, on which it is

dependent. Modifiers may come before or after the modified element (the head),

depending on the type of modifier and the rules of syntax for the language in

question. A modifier placed before the head is called a premodifier, one placed after

the head is called a postmodifier.

In English, there are five different kinds of phrase structures: noun phrases,

verb phrases, adjective phrases, prepositional phrases and adverbial phrases.

Randolph Quirk (1985) stated:

He defined that: “A noun phrase consists of head, which is typically a noun

and of elements which (either obligatorily or optionally) determine the head and

(optionally) modify the head, or complement another element in the phrase.” From

this definition, it is clear that a noun phrase is a word group with a noun or pronoun

as its head. The noun head can be accompanied by determiners such as the, a/an,

his, their…) and modifiers complements. Here are the examples: a land of the

living, couch doctor, one foot in the grave, picture of health, hair of the dog …

According to Quirk (1985), “A verb phrase consists of a verb which either

stands alone as the entire verb phrase, or is preceded by up to auxiliaries.” There

are two types of verb phrase: Simple verb phrase (consists of a main verb) and

complex verb phrase (may include one modal verb and one or more auxiliary verb

before the main verb).

Here are the examples: meet your maker, show signs of an illness, drop like


flies, have one foot in the grave …

He also defined “An adjective phrase consists of an adjective as head,

optionally preceded and followed by modifying elements”. An adjective phrase is a

group of words that describes a noun or pronoun in a sentence. The adjective in an

adjective phrase can appear at the start, end or in the middle of the phrase. The

adjective phrase can be placed before, or after the noun or pronoun in the sentence.

Here are the examples: as pale as a ghost, black and blue, racked with pain,

full of beans, blue around the gills…

Quirk (1985) said that: “A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition followed

by a prepositional complement, which is normally a noun phrase”. Every prepositional

phrase which functions as an adjective or adverb is a series of words made up of a

preposition and its object. The object may be a noun, pronoun, gerund or clause.

Here are the examples: in bad shape, in the pink of health, up and about, under

the weather, out of shape, in labor …

He also stated that: “An adverb phrase consists of an adverb as head,

optionally preceded and followed by modifying elements”. It can be said that an

adverb phrase is a group of words that refines the meaning of a verb, adjective or

adverb. Here are the examples: once in blue moon, at your earliest convenience, in

the long run, to date, etc.

From the author’s point of view, a phrase may not always consist of only one

word, it may be one-word phrase in cases of basic phrase. There is no subjectpredicate structure exists in a phrase, which includes the excluding of a finite verb.

This will make a phrase become a clause or a sentence. Phrases are usually

classified according to their head or central element and the meaning of a phrase is a

sum of the individual words.

2.2.2 Clause structures

According to Cambridge dictionary: “A clause is the basic unit of grammar.

A clause must contain a verb. Typically a clause is made up of a subject, a verb

phrase and, sometimes, a complement”.

“Non-finite clauses contain a verb which does not show tense. We usually use

non-finite verbs only in subordinate clauses. We usually understand the time referred

to from the context of the main clause. We often use a non-finite clause when the

subject is the same as the subject in the main clause.” (Cambridge dictionary)

According to Peter Collins and Carmella Hollo (2010), “A non-finite clause is a

subodinate clause with a non-finite verb as the first or only verb: an infinitive, a present


participle or a past participle and a gerund”.

Here is the example: I had something to eat before leaving.

A non-finite clause is one that includes a secondary verb (a verb not inflected

for tense, person or number.) The verb form is infinitival, gerundial or past

participial. A nonfinite clause occasionally includes a subject. It is a dependent

clause serving as the subject or as a complement to the verb, to a preposition or to a

noun but the meaning is incomplete.

“Finite clauses must contain a verb which shows tense. They can be main

clauses or subordinate clauses” (Cambridge dictionary).

According to Crystal (1980), “Finite clause is a clause with a finite verb”.

For example: We didn’t get any food because we didn’t have enough

time. (main: past; subordinate: past)

A finite clause is one that includes a primary verb, a verb that can be

inflected for tense, person and sometimes number. A finite clause includes a

subject. It is an independent clause, which can serve as a stand-alone clause

(sentence), a coordinate clause, a subordinate clause, or a supplementary clause and

has a complete meaning.

From the above definitions, the author agrees that a non-finite clause is a

subodinate clause with a non-finite verb as the first or only verb: an infinitive, a present

participle or a past participle and a gerund. The finite clauses must contain a verb

which shows tense. They can be main clauses or subordinate clauses.

2.2.3 Sentence structures

The sentence is probably the most familiar of all grammatical terms. People

are introduced to it in the early school years, and it quickly becomes part of the

linguistic awareness. It might therefore be thought that sentences are early things to

identify and define. There are different ways to define a sentence but the writer

prefers a traditional grammar-based definition. There are many authors giving

different definitions about English sentence.

According to Alice Oshima & Ann Hogue (2006), they stated that: “The

subject is a word or a group of words that name the person, thing, or place that a

sentence is about. It is usually a noun or a pronoun. The predicate makes a

statement about the subject. It consists of a verb and its modifiers or complements.

The verb is the most important point of the predicate expressing an action or a state

of being.” Normally, the subject of the sentence, in word order of a statement,

stands before its verb predicate. However, the order of the sentence can vary


according to the types of sentences (statement, question, request, etc). Moreover,

sentence structure (subject, verb, direct object, indirect object, adverb, subject

complement, object complement) is used to form a sentence. Here are the examples:

- Most people consider these books rather expensive.( In this sentence, most people

is the subject, the main verb is consider, these books is the object and rather

expensive is the complement).

- You must put all the toys upstairs. (In this sentence, you is the subject, the main

verb is must put, allthe toys is the object and upstairs is the adverb).

In Vietnam, according to Nguyễn Thiện Giáp (2008), “Sentence is the

smallest unit of language being capable of conveying a thing, an idea, a feeling

or an emotion”. The definition shows two characteristics of the sentence. In term

of functionality, sentence is a unit being capable of declaration. Thanks to this

feature, it is possible to distinguish the sentences from its lower rank (words). In

term of structure, sentence is the smallest language unit. For example, if people

consider a paragraph, or even an article, a chapter, a book are declarative units,

these units are split into several smaller units while the sentence is not split any


There are 7 different types of sentence structures. According to Randolph

Quirk (1985:721), here are the examples for each type.






The sun

is shining.


That lecture



Your dinner



My office




must send




have found




can put

the dish





in the next


my parents

an anniversary card.

Table 2.1: Types of sentence structures




on the


Among the above definitions, the author has the same opinion with Randolph Quirk

(1985) that there are 7 different types of sentence structures: SV, SVA, SVC, SVO,


2.3 Overview of idioms

2.3.1 Definition of idioms

In the definition of English idioms, some scholars emphasize the quantity of

structures in idioms. Others emphasize the single meaning of English idioms which

refers that the English idioms’ meaning is arbitrary. The English idioms’ meaning

can not be synthesized or cut apart. Different people hold the different opinions and

focal points on the definition of English idioms. In English, idioms maybe treated as

a type of collocation involving two or more words in context. However, since the

meaning of an idiom can not be predicted from the meaning of its constituents,

idioms may be considered as a type of multi word lexeme. So far, there have been

several definitions of idioms.

Jon Wright (2000) and Fromkin, Collin and Blair (1990) have the same ideas

that: “an idiom is an expression with the following features: It is fixed and is

recognized by native speakers. You cannot make up your own; it uses language in a

non literal-metaphorical- way”. For example the idiom meet your maker is fixed

and cannot be replaced by other verbs or phrases because this idiom is recognized

by native speakers.

Idioms also have been defined by Jenifer Seild and Mordie (1988), Hornby

(1995) and Arthur (1986) as “a number of words which, when taken together, have

different meanings from individual meaning of each word”. Therefore, an idiom is a

multi-word construction. Its semantic meaning can not be deducted from the

meaning of constituents and it has a non productive syntactic structure. Idioms are

phrases that do not mean exactly what they say. They have "hidden" meanings, like

the idiom dogs are barking really means the feet are hurting.

In Vietnam, Nguyễn Văn Hằng (1999) defined that: “Idiom is a special

phrase which allows very little or no variation in form; it is formed with rhythm and

special phonetic elements; its meaning cannot be deduced from its individual

components; it expresses figurative and general meaning and normally comes along

with emotive values; it is used to denote real phenomena and it often functions as a

sentence element” (Thành ngữ là một cụm từ đặc biệt có cấu trúc cố định , có vần

điệu và thành phần ngữ âm đặc biệt; có thể suy ra từ tổng số nghĩa của các yếu tố


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