HOME

TheInfoList



OR:

In
syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure (constituency), ...
and
grammar In linguistics, the grammar of a natural language is its set of structural constraints on speakers' or writers' composition of clauses, phrases, and words. The term can also refer to the study of such constraints, a field that includes domains ...
, a phrase is a group of words or singular word acting as a grammatical unit. For instance, the
English English usually refers to: * English language * English people English may also refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * ''English'', an adjective for something of, from, or related to England ** English national i ...
expression "the very happy squirrel" is a
noun phrase In linguistics, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase that has a noun or pronoun as its head or performs the same grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, and they may be the most frequently oc ...
which contains the
adjective phrase An adjective phrase (or adjectival phrase) is a phrase whose head is an adjective. Almost any grammar or syntax textbook or dictionary of linguistics terminology defines the adjective phrase in a similar way, e.g. Kesner Bland (1996:499), Crystal (1 ...
"very happy". Phrases can consist of a single word or a complete sentence. In
theoretical linguistics Theoretical linguistics is a term in linguistics which, like the related term general linguistics, can be understood in different ways. Both can be taken as a reference to theory of language, or the branch of linguistics which inquires into the ...
, phrases are often analyzed as units of syntactic structure such as a
constituent Constituent or constituency may refer to: Politics * An individual voter within an electoral district, state, community, or organization * Advocacy group or constituency * Constituent assembly * Constituencies of Namibia Other meanings * Consti ...
.


Common and technical use

There is a difference between the common use of the term ''phrase'' and its technical use in linguistics. In common usage, a phrase is usually a group of words with some special
idiom An idiom is a phrase or expression that typically presents a figurative, non-literal meaning attached to the phrase; but some phrases become figurative idioms while retaining the literal meaning of the phrase. Categorized as formulaic language, ...
atic meaning or other significance, such as " all rights reserved", " economical with the truth", " kick the bucket", and the like. It may be a
euphemism A euphemism () is an innocuous word or expression used in place of one that is deemed offensive or suggests something unpleasant. Some euphemisms are intended to amuse, while others use bland, inoffensive terms for concepts that the user wishes ...
, a
saying A saying is any concisely written or spoken expression that is especially memorable because of its meaning or style. Sayings are categorized as follows: * Aphorism: a general, observational truth; "a pithy expression of wisdom or truth". ** Adage ...
or
proverb A proverb (from la, proverbium) is a simple and insightful, traditional saying that expresses a perceived truth based on common sense or experience. Proverbs are often metaphorical and use formulaic language. A proverbial phrase or a proverbia ...
, a
fixed expression A phraseme, also called a set phrase, idiomatic phrase, multi-word expression (in computational linguistics), or idiom, is a multi-word or multi-morphemic utterance whose components include at least one that is selectionally constrained or restri ...
, a
figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that intentionally deviates from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetorical effect. Figures of speech are traditionally classified into '' schemes,'' which vary the ordinary ...
, etc.. In
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Lingui ...
, these are known as
phraseme A phraseme, also called a set phrase, idiomatic phrase, multi-word expression (in computational linguistics), or idiom, is a multi-word or multi-morphemic utterance whose components include at least one that is selectionally constrained or restri ...
s. In theories of
syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure (constituency), ...
, a phrase is any group of words, or sometimes a single word, which plays a particular role within the
syntactic In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure (constituency), ...
structure of a sentence. It does not have to have any special meaning or significance, or even exist anywhere outside of the sentence being analyzed, but it must function there as a complete grammatical unit. For example, in the sentence ''Yesterday I saw an orange bird with a white neck'', the words ''an orange bird with a white neck'' form a
noun phrase In linguistics, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase that has a noun or pronoun as its head or performs the same grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, and they may be the most frequently oc ...
, or a
determiner phrase In linguistics, a determiner phrase (DP) is a type of phrase headed by a determiner such as ''many''. Controversially, many approaches, take a phrase like ''not very many apples'' to be a DP, headed, in this case, by the determiner ''many''. This is ...
in some theories, which functions as the
object Object may refer to: General meanings * Object (philosophy), a thing, being, or concept ** Object (abstract), an object which does not exist at any particular time or place ** Physical object, an identifiable collection of matter * Goal, an ai ...
of the sentence.


Phrase trees

Many theories of syntax and grammar illustrate sentence structure using phrase '
trees In botany, a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated stem, or trunk, usually supporting branches and leaves. In some usages, the definition of a tree may be narrower, including only woody plants with secondary growth, plants that are ...
', which provide schematics of how the words in a sentence are grouped and relate to each other. A tree shows the words, phrases, and clauses that make up a sentence. Any word combination that corresponds to a complete subtree can be seen as a phrase. There are two competing principles for constructing trees; they produce 'constituency' and 'dependency' trees and both are illustrated here using an example sentence. The constituency-based tree is on the left and the dependency-based tree is on the right: :: The tree on the left is of the constituency-based,
phrase structure grammar The term phrase structure grammar was originally introduced by Noam Chomsky as the term for grammar studied previously by Emil Post and Axel Thue ( Post canonical systems). Some authors, however, reserve the term for more restricted grammars in ...
, and the tree on the right is of the
dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical theories that are all based on the dependency relation (as opposed to the ''constituency relation'' of phrase structure) and that can be traced back primarily to the work of Lucien Tesni ...
. The node labels in the two trees mark the
syntactic category A syntactic category is a syntactic unit that theories of syntax assume. Word classes, largely corresponding to traditional parts of speech (e.g. noun, verb, preposition, etc.), are syntactic categories. In phrase structure grammars, the ''phrasal ...
of the different constituents, or word elements, of the sentence. In the constituency tree each phrase is marked by a phrasal node (NP, PP, VP); and there are eight phrases identified by phrase structure analysis in the example sentence. On the other hand, the dependency tree identifies a phrase by any node that exerts dependency upon, or dominates, another node. And, using dependency analysis, there are six phrases in the sentence. The trees and phrase-counts demonstrate that different theories of syntax differ in the word combinations they qualify as a phrase. Here the constituency tree identifies three phrases that the dependency trees does not, namely: ''house at the end of the street'', ''end of the street'', and ''the end''. More analysis, including about the plausibilities of both grammars, can be made empirically by applying constituency tests.


Heads and dependents

In grammatical analysis, most phrases contain a
head A head is the part of an organism which usually includes the ears, brain, forehead, cheeks, chin, eyes, nose, and mouth, each of which aid in various sensory functions such as sight, hearing, smell, and taste. Some very simple animals may ...
, which identifies the type and linguistic features of the phrase. The
syntactic category A syntactic category is a syntactic unit that theories of syntax assume. Word classes, largely corresponding to traditional parts of speech (e.g. noun, verb, preposition, etc.), are syntactic categories. In phrase structure grammars, the ''phrasal ...
of the head is used to name the category of the phrase; for example, a phrase whose head is a
noun A noun () is a word that generally functions as the name of a specific object or set of objects, such as living creatures, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas.Example nouns for: * Living creatures (including people, alive, ...
is called a
noun phrase In linguistics, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase that has a noun or pronoun as its head or performs the same grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, and they may be the most frequently oc ...
. The remaining words in a phrase are called the dependents of the head. In the following phrases the head-word, or head, is bolded: ::too slowly —
Adverb phrase In linguistics, an ''adverbial phrase'' ("AdvP") is a multi-word expression operating adverbially: its syntactic function is to modify other expressions, including verbs, adjectives, adverbs, adverbials, and sentences. Adverbial phrases can be di ...
(AdvP); the head is an adverb
::very happy —
Adjective phrase An adjective phrase (or adjectival phrase) is a phrase whose head is an adjective. Almost any grammar or syntax textbook or dictionary of linguistics terminology defines the adjective phrase in a similar way, e.g. Kesner Bland (1996:499), Crystal (1 ...
(AP); the head is an adjective
::the massive dinosaur —
Noun phrase In linguistics, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase that has a noun or pronoun as its head or performs the same grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, and they may be the most frequently oc ...
(NP); the head is a noun (but see below for the ''determiner phrase'' analysis)
::at lunch — Preposition phrase (PP); the head is a preposition ::watch TV —
Verb phrase In linguistics, a verb phrase (VP) is a syntactic unit composed of a verb and its arguments except the subject of an independent clause or coordinate clause. Thus, in the sentence ''A fat man quickly put the money into the box'', the words ''q ...
(VP); the head is a verb
The above five examples are the most common of phrase types; but, by the logic of heads and dependents, others can be routinely produced. For instance, the subordinator phrase: ::before that happened — Subordinator phrase (SP); the head is a subordinating conjunction—it subordinates the independent clause By linguistic analysis this is a group of words that qualifies as a phrase, and the head-word gives its syntactic name, "subordinator", to the grammatical category of the entire phrase. But this phrase, "before that happened", is more commonly classified in other grammars, including traditional English grammars, as a
subordinate clause A subordinate clause, dependent clause, subclause, or embedded clause is a clause that is embedded within a complex sentence. For instance, in the English sentence "I know that Bette is a dolphin", the clause "that Bette is a dolphin" occurs as th ...
(or
dependent clause A subordinate clause, dependent clause, subclause, or embedded clause is a clause that is embedded within a complex sentence. For instance, in the English sentence "I know that Bette is a dolphin", the clause "that Bette is a dolphin" occurs as th ...
); and it is then labelled ''not'' as a phrase, but as a
clause In language, a clause is a constituent that comprises a semantic predicand (expressed or not) and a semantic predicate. A typical clause consists of a subject and a syntactic predicate, the latter typically a verb phrase composed of a verb with ...
. Most theories of syntax view most phrases as having a head, but some non-headed phrases are acknowledged. A phrase lacking a head is known as
exocentric In theoretical linguistics, a distinction is made between endocentric and exocentric constructions. A grammatical construction (for instance, a phrase or compound) is said to be ''endocentric'' if it fulfils the same linguistic function as one o ...
, and phrases with heads are endocentric.


Functional categories

Some modern theories of syntax introduce functional categories in which the head of a phrase is a functional lexical item. Some functional heads in some languages are not pronounced, but are rather
covert Secrecy is the practice of hiding information from certain individuals or groups who do not have the "need to know", perhaps while sharing it with other individuals. That which is kept hidden is known as the secret. Secrecy is often controvers ...
. For example, in order to explain certain syntactic patterns which correlate with the
speech act In the philosophy of language and linguistics, speech act is something expressed by an individual that not only presents information but performs an action as well. For example, the phrase "I would like the kimchi; could you please pass it to me?" ...
a sentence performs, some researchers have posited ''force phrases'' (ForceP), whose heads are not pronounced in many languages including English. Similarly, many frameworks assume that covert
determiners A determiner, also called determinative (abbreviated ), is a word, phrase, or affix that occurs together with a noun or noun phrase and generally serves to express the reference of that noun or noun phrase in the context. That is, a determiner m ...
are present in bare noun phrases such as
proper name A proper noun is a noun that identifies a single entity and is used to refer to that entity (''Africa'', ''Jupiter'', ''Sarah'', ''Microsoft)'' as distinguished from a common noun, which is a noun that refers to a class of entities (''continent, ...
s. Another type is the inflectional phrase, where (for example) a
finite verb Traditionally, a finite verb (from la, fīnītus, past participle of to put an end to, bound, limit) is the form "to which number and person appertain", in other words, those inflected for number and person. Verbs were originally said to be '' ...
phrase is taken to be the complement of a functional, possibly covert head (denoted INFL) which is supposed to encode the requirements for the verb to inflect – for
agreement Agreement may refer to: Agreements between people and organizations * Gentlemen's agreement, not enforceable by law * Trade agreement, between countries * Consensus, a decision-making process * Contract, enforceable in a court of law ** Meeting of ...
with its subject (which is the specifier of INFL), for tense and
aspect Aspect or Aspects may refer to: Entertainment * '' Aspect magazine'', a biannual DVD magazine showcasing new media art * Aspect Co., a Japanese video game company * Aspects (band), a hip hop group from Bristol, England * ''Aspects'' (Benny Cart ...
, etc. If these factors are treated separately, then more specific categories may be considered: ''tense phrase'' (TP), where the verb phrase is the complement of an abstract "tense" element; ''aspect phrase''; ''agreement phrase'' and so on. Further examples of such proposed categories include ''topic phrase'' and ''focus phrase'', which are argued to be headed by elements that encode the need for a constituent of the sentence to be marked as the
topic Topic, topics, TOPIC, topical, or topicality may refer to: Topic / Topics * Topić, a Slavic surname * ''Topics'' (Aristotle), a work by Aristotle * Topic (chocolate bar), a brand of confectionery bar * Topic (DJ), German musician * Topic ...
or focus.


Variation among theories of syntax

Theories of syntax differ in what they regard as a phrase. For instance, while most if not all theories of syntax acknowledge the existence of
verb phrase In linguistics, a verb phrase (VP) is a syntactic unit composed of a verb and its arguments except the subject of an independent clause or coordinate clause. Thus, in the sentence ''A fat man quickly put the money into the box'', the words ''q ...
s (VPs),
Phrase structure grammar The term phrase structure grammar was originally introduced by Noam Chomsky as the term for grammar studied previously by Emil Post and Axel Thue ( Post canonical systems). Some authors, however, reserve the term for more restricted grammars in ...
s acknowledge both
finite verb Traditionally, a finite verb (from la, fīnītus, past participle of to put an end to, bound, limit) is the form "to which number and person appertain", in other words, those inflected for number and person. Verbs were originally said to be '' ...
phrases and
non-finite verb A nonfinite verb is a derivative form of a verb unlike finite verbs. Accordingly, nonfinite verb forms are inflected for neither number nor person, and they cannot perform action as the root of an independent clause. In English, nonfinite verbs i ...
phrases while
dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical theories that are all based on the dependency relation (as opposed to the ''constituency relation'' of phrase structure) and that can be traced back primarily to the work of Lucien Tesni ...
s only acknowledge non-finite verb phrases. The split between these views persists due to conflicting results from the standard empirical diagnostics of phrasehood such as constituency tests.For empirical arguments against finite VP's, see Miller (2011:54f.) and Osborne (2011:323f.). The distinction is illustrated with the following examples: ::The Republicans may nominate Newt. - Finite VP in bold ::The Republicans may nominate Newt. - Non-finite VP in bold The syntax trees of this sentence are next: :: The constituency tree on the left shows the finite verb string ''may nominate Newt'' as a constituent; it corresponds to VP1. In contrast, this same string is not shown as a phrase in the dependency tree on the right. However, both trees, take the non-finite VP string ''nominate Newt'' to be a constituent.


See also

*
Clause In language, a clause is a constituent that comprises a semantic predicand (expressed or not) and a semantic predicate. A typical clause consists of a subject and a syntactic predicate, the latter typically a verb phrase composed of a verb with ...
*
Constituent (linguistics) In syntactic analysis, a constituent is a word or a group of words that function as a single unit within a hierarchical structure. The constituent structure of sentences is identified using ''tests for constituents''. These tests apply to a porti ...
*
Dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical theories that are all based on the dependency relation (as opposed to the ''constituency relation'' of phrase structure) and that can be traced back primarily to the work of Lucien Tesni ...
*
Finite verb Traditionally, a finite verb (from la, fīnītus, past participle of to put an end to, bound, limit) is the form "to which number and person appertain", in other words, those inflected for number and person. Verbs were originally said to be '' ...
*
Head (linguistics) In linguistics, the head or nucleus of a phrase is the word that determines the syntactic category of that phrase. For example, the head of the noun phrase ''boiling hot water'' is the noun ''water''. Analogously, the head of a compound is the ...
*
Non-finite verb A nonfinite verb is a derivative form of a verb unlike finite verbs. Accordingly, nonfinite verb forms are inflected for neither number nor person, and they cannot perform action as the root of an independent clause. In English, nonfinite verbs i ...
*
Phrase structure grammar The term phrase structure grammar was originally introduced by Noam Chomsky as the term for grammar studied previously by Emil Post and Axel Thue ( Post canonical systems). Some authors, however, reserve the term for more restricted grammars in ...
*
Sentence (linguistics) In linguistics and grammar, a sentence is a linguistic expression, such as the English example "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." In traditional grammar, it is typically defined as a string of words that expresses a complete thought, ...
*
Syntactic category A syntactic category is a syntactic unit that theories of syntax assume. Word classes, largely corresponding to traditional parts of speech (e.g. noun, verb, preposition, etc.), are syntactic categories. In phrase structure grammars, the ''phrasal ...
*
Verb phrase In linguistics, a verb phrase (VP) is a syntactic unit composed of a verb and its arguments except the subject of an independent clause or coordinate clause. Thus, in the sentence ''A fat man quickly put the money into the box'', the words ''q ...
*
Phraseme A phraseme, also called a set phrase, idiomatic phrase, multi-word expression (in computational linguistics), or idiom, is a multi-word or multi-morphemic utterance whose components include at least one that is selectionally constrained or restri ...
*
X-bar theory In linguistics, X-bar theory is a model of phrase-structure grammar and a theory of syntactic category formation that was first proposed by Noam Chomsky in 1970Chomsky, Noam (1970). Remarks on Nominalization. In: R. Jacobs and P. Rosenbaum (eds.) ...


Notes


References

*Finch, G. 2000. Linguistic terms and concepts. New York: St. Martin's Press. *Kroeger, Paul 2005
Analyzing grammar: An introduction
Cambridge University Press. *Miller, J. 2011
A critical introduction to syntax
London: continuum. *Osborne, Timothy, Michael Putnam, and Thomas Gross 2011
Bare phrase structure, label-less structures, and specifier-less syntax: Is Minimalism becoming a dependency grammar?
The Linguistic Review 28: 315-364. *Sobin, N. 2011. Syntactic analysis: The basics. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. {{div col end Syntactic categories