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30 Oct 2014

An absolute phrase

Usually, an absolute phrase consists of a noun or pronoun with a participle and other modifiers. An absolute phrase does not modify a specific word in a sentence, instead it modifies the rest of a sentence.

The absolute phrase can be placed in front, at the end or in the middle of a sentence. It adds extra information modifying the whole sentence.

The structure of absolute phrases differ, and it is better to see examples to understand it.

Frankly speaking, I do not like horrors. One of common expressions which are considered to be absolutely phrases.

He did not want to her to go to work in such circumstances, truth to tell.

Talking about John, do you know that he was promoted?

Look, judging by the ominously lurking clouds, the storm is brewing.

Probably the most common are absolute phrases following the pattern: a noun plus a participle:

Legs shaking, he scrambled on the bank of the river.

Face frozen and heart beating like crazy, she went to the room to meet a doctor.

They were paddling along the seashore, the waves gently licking their feet.

Personally, I think that this phrase is a wonderful way of expressing our thoughts. We have to be very aware of its power, as well as be conscious of high probability of making mistakes while using it.

This type of phrases is often used in descriptive prose, adding in fact, important information.

Sometimes, especially when a participle is a form of a verb be (being, having been) a participle is often omitted, but understood.

The match (being) over, they win the championship.

(Having been) the best graduate at his year, he could choose among top jobs in the market.

In many absolute phrases, we will find a noun (subject of a phrase) and a verb, but this verb will be in non-finite form  - a participle or an infinitive, a verbal form functioning as other parts of speech than a verb.

To master writing in English, we need to understand how phrases build a clause, and, what is the most essential, how these building blocks create intelligible thoughts. The next post will be about an appositive phrase, or rather how different phrases can act as appositive. Armed with this knowledge, I will talk about clauses.

29 Oct 2014

A gerund phrase

Gerund phrases begin with a gerund, an ing-word and may include other modifies and/or objects. A gerund phrase always functions as a noun and may act as: a subject, a subject complement, an object (direct and indirect), an object of a preposition or appositive.

A gerund phrase looks exactly as a present participle phrase, but the two phrases play different roles in a sentence. A gerund will behave as a noun whereas a present participle as an adjective.

I like reading a good book. A gerund phrase, I like what? -  reading, a noun - is a direct object of liking, and a book is an indirect object.

Reading a book, Peter forgot about the chicken in the oven. In this sentence a phrase 'reading a book' modifies Peter and therefore acts as an adjective.

Reading a good book is the best pastime in the winter. Here the same phrase functions as a noun, the subject of a sentence.

He had only one desire, leaving for home. A gerund phrase acts here as an appositive (renaming the desire).

His desire, leaving for home, was the only thing he wanted. Again a gerund phrase in appositive role.

Reading a good book in front of the fireplace, Peter has forgotten not only about the chicken in the oven, but also about the whole world. And here we have a present prepositional phrase modifying Peter, therefore, it is an adjectival phrase.

My hobby is collecting stamps. A gerund phrase acting as a noun, a subject complement.

For mountaineering and rock climbing you need to be brave. A compound gerund as an object of a preposition.

Watching a horror movie in the evening may give you a nightmare at night. The opening phrase acts as the subject of a sentence and consists of a gerund, a direct object of a gerund, and a prepositional phrase as an adverb. Technically speaking 'watching' is the bare subject here.

And the good news is that a gerund phrase does not require punctuation. In fact, most grammatical mistakes happen when we add a comma before gerund which is used as an object or what is even worse - between a gerund phrase functioning as the subject of a sentence and its main verb.

We separate only these gerund phrases which act as appositive, and the next post will explain it.

28 Oct 2014

An infinite phrase (3)

An infinite phrase acts as: a noun (often the subject of a sentence), an adjective or an adverb. I talked about infinite phrases acting as objects in two previous posts; today I want to concentrate on an infinite phrase acting as an adjective or an adverb.

There is one thing I will add about an infinite phrase acting as a delayed subject in sentences starting with 'it' or 'there', which are called dummy element (operator, subject). They have only grammatical role in a sentence and are added as the English language demands a subject in every sentence. Dummy has no lexicological meaning in such sentences.

It took us a long time to understand this problem.
Infinitive phrase - the delayed subject of the sentence. Compare:
To understand this problem it took us a long time.

It was absolutely disgraceful to stand there like kids at school and to listen to his pompous harangue.
To stand there like kids at school and to listen to his pompous harangue was absolutely disgraceful.

Infinitive phrase as an adjective and an adverb
Adjectives modify nouns/pronounce and answer the questions: which one? or what kind?
Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs and clauses. They answer: how? when? where? how much and why. An adverbial infinite phrase usually answers the question why something was done.

I need more money to travel all over the world. (what money? - money for travelling)
I sold my house to travel all over the world. (why did I sell the house? - to travel)

Peter, a penchant for the English language, enrolled on a course at university to improve his grammar skills. To improve the grammar skills - explains why he enrolled on a course - an adverbial infinite phrase.

To improve his grammar skills, Peter, a penchant of the English language, enrolled on a course at university.

An adverbial infinite phrase introducing a main clause requires a comma after it, as in our sentence above. We know many adverbial infinite phrases like: 'to tell the true', truth to tell', 'to be honest' etc, which may be placed at the beginning, at the end and even in a sentence. When such a phrase is used in a sentence as an interrupter, two commas are required, before and at the end of it.

Peter, to be honest, does not like cats.

A few exemplary sentences from 'Woman in black' by Susan Hill:
'...he gestured to indicate the dramatic suddenness of his frets.
(why did he gesture? - adverb)

'I expect to go out to see something of the marshes later.’
I expect - what? to go out - an object (infinite phrase as a noun)
To go out - why? to see something - an adverbial infinite phrase.
Something - what kind of? - of the marshes - an adjectival prepositional phrase.
Later - when? an adjective.

‘You are almost making me anxious to get back to that London particular!’
To get back - to make me what? object of making.
To that London particular - where? an adverbial prepositional phrase.

BTW, a London particular means a fog or a fog/smog which used to have blanketed London.

The deeper I go into sentence structure, the more I understand the imperative of knowing the basic grammar before!


27 Oct 2014

An infinite phrase (2)

It is not difficult to recognise an infinite phrase, albeit it may be harder to be sure which part of a sentence it modifies.

To eat healthy food is the main factor of any diet.
An infinite phrase is acting as the subject of the sentence.

To eat modestly is another factor of any healthy diet.
The object 'to eat' takes an adverb 'modestly' which modifies a verb eat. Personally, I am having a kind of a headache with an adverb modifying an object but this is English.

She wants to write a book. 
To write a book, an infinite phrase - object of a verb 'wants'.

Peter's goal in life, to marry Jane, is to be fulfilled this year, at last.
In this sentence, we have two infinite phrases, the first modifies a noun 'goal' and acts as an appositive phrase (renaming or adding information about the noun/object), whereas the second phrase modifies a verb 'is' and is its object.

Peter's goal in life, to marry Jane, to live a happy life, is to be fulfilled this year, at last.
Peter's goal in life, to marry Jane and (to) live a happy life, is to be fulfilled this year, at last.
As we can see, we may extend an infinitive phrase and sometimes omit next 'to'.

An infinite phrase may be used in other tenses, as well as in the passive voice.
She wanted to have written a book.
Jane seems to have forgotten about her first love.
Peter's sister is thought to have been a teacher of English.
The man sitting in the corner of the room is thought to have been abducted by aliens.

Notice, that when we ask about all these phrases, we ask: what? or is what? And this should help us to recognise an infinite phrase acting as object  or the subject of a sentence.


26 Oct 2014

An infinitive phrase as an object (1)

An infinitive phrase begins with 'to' and a verb (an infinitive verb) which may be complemented by objects or/ and modifiers.

To be is a simple infinite phrase acting as a noun, called also an infinite noun.

In general, to plus a verb play a role of a noun; an infinite noun may be the subject of a sentence, a direct object, an indirect object, subject complement, appositive phrase and an object of a preposition.

I want to see you.
To see is a direct object and you - indirect one.

Compare:
I want you to see Peter.
To see you - is the same an infinite phrase but this time the actor or the subject of the phrase is 'you'.

To win the marathon is a challenge.
An infinite phrase - the subject of the sentence.

I hope to enjoy reading this book.
To enjoy - a direct object of hoping, reading this book - direct object of enjoying (a gerund phrase, but I have not discussed it yet).

Peter's dream was to marry Jane.
To marry Jane is a direct object of dreaming and a subject complement.

Peter's dream, to marry Jane, was fulfilled last year.
This time an infinite phrase is used as an appositive phrase (renaming the object) and is separated by commas like other nonessential phrases.

Jane's desire was nothing but to be happy.
To be happy - an object of a preposition but.

To sell more and more cars is our boss's desire. ( subject)

An infinite phrase can act as an adjective and adverb, but about that I will talk in the next post.

25 Oct 2014

The participial and prepositional phrases in a sentence

The act of writing is to tell us something about somebody or something. That is verbs job to convey what is done and nouns, who did what. In English, the order of the words is very important and we know some sentence patterns, but what makes this language flexible, is the role of phrases and how they build a clause and a sentence.

In this post, I am going to analyse how some phrases are settled in a sentence, using the sentences from a book ‘Woman in black’ by Susan Hill.

‘The pony was a small, shaggy-looking creature, wearing blinkers, and the driver with a large cap pulled down low over his brow , and a long, hairy brown coat, looked not unlike it, and blended with the whole equipage.’

Let’s read about the pony: ‘a small, shaggy-looking creature, wearing blinkers,’ – there are two present participle phrases acting as adjectives. The whole part is a subject complement (modifying ‘pony’), this type is also called a predicate nominative or predicate noun. A subject complement adds information about the subject, not about the action. In this description the author uses the rule of three – here three phrases are used to depict a pony.

Now the driver’s impression: ‘with a large cap pulled down low over his brow’ – here there are again three phrases:

  • with a large cap – a prepositional phrase (which driver? this with a cap, acts as an adjective)
  • pulled down low – a past participial phrase (what kind of a cap? pulled down, again it acts as an adjective)
  • over his brow – a prepositional phrase (how low? over his brow, acting as an adverb)

Longer participial phrases usually are separated by commas, especially when they add nonessential information or when added at the beginning of a sentence as an introductory modifier:

  • Being a retired teacher of English, Linda hates short, simple sentences unless they are significant statements.
  • Linda, being a retired teacher of English, hates short, simple sentences unless they are important statements.
  • Linda, bored of reading simple sentences, dreams of proofreading another Shakespeare.

24 Oct 2014

The participle phrase

A participle is a form of a verb and may act as an adjective. There are two kinds of a participle: the present participle and past (perfect) participle. A present participle always ends in 
-ing form (smiling, cooking, walking), whereas a past participle usually ends with –ed (smiled, cooked, walked) for regular verbs and for irregular verbs they vary considerably (break – broken).
A participle phrase consists of a participle and an object and, optionally, its modifiers  - acts as an adjective, modifying a noun or a pronoun. They may modify a subject or other nouns/objects in a sentence.

a smiling lady

a – an indefinite article (determiner) modifies ‘lady’, 
smiling – an adjective, which modifies ‘lady’;

both are modifiers and called ‘determiners’, which occur before a noun being modified. Therefore, ‘a smiling lady’ is a noun phrase with a participle working as an adjective.

a retired teacher
this is again the same pattern.


  • This lady, walking towards us, is Peter’s sister.
  • Peter’s old, red, Japanese sport car, repaired three times this month, is a scrap of metal.
  • These parts coloured in red are participial phrases. 
  • Having been a teacher of English, Peter’s older sister of Nottingham in Yorkshire in England does not like the East London accent.
  • Being a retired teacher of English for over 30 years, Jane loves to correct Peter’s London’s accent.