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In
syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of Sentence (linguistics), sentences (sentence structure) in a given Natural language, language, usually including word order. The term ''syntax'' ...

syntax
and
grammar In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the me ...
, a phrase is a group of words which act together as a grammatical unit. For instance, the
English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World language, leading lan ...

English
expression "the very happy squirrel" is a
noun phrase A noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase In everyday speech, a phrase is any group of words, often carrying a special idiomatic meaning; in this sense it is synonymous with expression. In Linguistics#Analysis, linguistic analysis, a phrase i ...
which contains the
adjective phraseAn adjective phrase (or adjectival phrase) is a phrase In everyday speech, a phrase is any group of words, often carrying a special idiomatic meaning; in this sense it is synonymous with expression. In Linguistics#Analysis, linguistic analysis, a ph ...
"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 Phi ...
, phrases are often analyzed as units of syntactic structure such as a
constituent Constituent or constituency may refer to: In politics * Electoral district An electoral district, also known as an election district, legislative district, voting district, constituency, riding, ward, division, (election) precinct, electoral ar ...
.


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 In syntax and grammar, a phrase is a group of words which act together as a grammatical unit. For instance, the English language, English expression "the very happy squirrel" is a noun phrase which contains the adjective phra ...
atic meaning or other significance, such as "
all rights reserved "All rights reserved" is a copyright formality indicating that the copyright holder ''reserves'', or holds for its own use, all the rights provided by copyright law Copyright is a type of intellectual property that gives its owner the exclu ...

all rights reserved
", "
economical with the truth To be ''economical with the truth'' literally means to avoid revealing too much of the truth. While the idea may have an approbatory sense of prudence or diplomacy, the phrase is often either used euphemism, euphemistically to denote dissimulation ...
", "
kick the bucket To kick the bucket is an English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually becom ...
", 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 to ...
, a
saying A saying is any concisely written or spoken expression (linguistics), 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 w ...

saying
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 speech, formulaic language. Collectively, they ...

proverb
, a
fixed expression A set phrase or fixed phrase is a phrase In everyday speech, a phrase is any group of words, often carrying a special idiomatic meaning; in this sense it is synonymous with expression. In Linguistics#Analysis, linguistic analysis, a phrase is a gro ...
, a
figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that entails an intentional deviation from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar a ...
, etc.. In
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages have a writing ...

linguistics
, 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 where at least one of whose components is selectionally constrained or restricted ...
s. In theories of
syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of Sentence (linguistics), sentences (sentence structure) in a given Natural language, language, usually including word order. The term ''syntax'' ...

syntax
, a phrase is any group of words, or sometimes a single word, which plays a particular role within the
syntactic In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis includ ...

syntactic
structure of a
sentence Sentence(s) or The Sentence may refer to: Common uses * Sentence (law), the punishment a judge gives to a defendant found guilty of a crime * Sentence (linguistics), a grammatical unit of language * Sentence (mathematical logic), a formula not cont ...
. 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 A noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase In everyday speech, a phrase is any group of words, often carrying a special idiomatic meaning; in this sense it is synonymous with expression. In Linguistics#Analysis, linguistic analysis, a phrase i ...
, or a
determiner phraseIn linguistics, a determiner phrase (DP) is a type of phrase posited by many modern theories of syntax. Many other approaches, however, reject the DP analysis in favor of the more traditional NP analysis of nominal groups. Thus, there are competing a ...
in some theories, which functions as the
object Object may refer to: General meanings * Object (philosophy), a thing, being, or concept ** Entity, something that is tangible and within the grasp of the senses ** Object (abstract), an object which does not exist at any particular time or pl ...
of the sentence.


Phrase trees

Many theories of syntax and grammar illustrate sentence structure using phrase '
trees In botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and Taxonomy (general), organiz ...
', 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 Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system ...
, and the tree on the right is of the
dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling th ...
. The node labels in the two trees mark the
syntactic categoryA syntactic category is a syntactic unit that theories of syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of Sentence (linguistics), sentences (sentence structure) in a given Natural langu ...
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 tree 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 Head Sport GmbH is an American-Austrian manufacturing company headquartered in Kennelbach. It owns the American tennis racket brand Head. Head GmbH is a group that includes several previously independent companies, including the original "Head ...
, which identifies the type and linguistic features of the phrase. The
syntactic categoryA syntactic category is a syntactic unit that theories of syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of Sentence (linguistics), sentences (sentence structure) in a given Natural langu ...
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 In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning. In many la ...

noun
is called a
noun phrase A noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase In everyday speech, a phrase is any group of words, often carrying a special idiomatic meaning; in this sense it is synonymous with expression. In Linguistics#Analysis, linguistic analysis, a phrase i ...
. 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 Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ph ...
(AdvP); the head is an adverb
::very happy —
Adjective phraseAn adjective phrase (or adjectival phrase) is a phrase In everyday speech, a phrase is any group of words, often carrying a special idiomatic meaning; in this sense it is synonymous with expression. In Linguistics#Analysis, linguistic analysis, a ph ...
(AP); the head is an adjective
::the massive dinosaur —
Noun phrase A noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase In everyday speech, a phrase is any group of words, often carrying a special idiomatic meaning; in this sense it is synonymous with expression. In Linguistics#Analysis, linguistic analysis, a phrase i ...
(NP); the head is a noun (but see
below Below may refer to: *Earth *Ground (disambiguation) *Soil *Floor *Bottom (disambiguation) *Less than *Temperatures below freezing *Hell or underworld People with the surname *Fred Below (1926–1988), American blues drummer *Fritz von Below (1853 ...
for the ''determiner phrase'' analysis)
::at lunch —
Preposition phrase Prepositions and postpositions, together called adpositions (or broadly, in English, simply prepositions), are a class of words used to express spatial or temporal relations (''in'', ''under'', ''towards'', ''before'') or mark various semantic r ...
(PP); the head is a preposition
::watch TV —
Verb phrase In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ph ...
(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 In grammar In linguistics, the grammar (from Ancient Greek ''grammatikḗ'') of a natural language is its set of structure, structural constraints on speakers' or writers' composition of clause (linguistics), clauses, phrases, and words. The ...
—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 or embedded clause is a clause that is embedded inside another clause. For instance, in the English sentence "I know that Bette is a dolphin", the clause "that Bette is a dolphin" occurs as the complement (ling ...
(or
dependent clause A subordinate clause, dependent clause or embedded clause is a clause In language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. M ...
); and it is then labelled ''not'' as a phrase, but as a
clause In language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages have a writing system composed of glyphs to inscribe the ...
. 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 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 Theory of language is a topic ...
, and phrases with heads are
endocentric 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 Theory of language is a topic ...
.


Functional categories

Some modern theories of syntax introduce
functional categories Functional may refer to: * Movements in architecture: ** Functionalism (architecture) ** Form follows function * Functional group In organic chemistry, a functional group is a substituent or moiety in a molecule File:Pentacene on Ni(111 ...
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 controver ...
. For example, in order to explain certain syntactic patterns which correlate with the
speech act In the philosophy of language In analytic philosophy Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existe ...
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 In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practic ...

determiners
are present in bare noun phrases such as
proper name A proper noun is a noun A noun () is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (lingu ...
s. Another type is the
inflectional phraseIn X-bar theory In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic ana ...
, 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 Grammatical number, number and Grammatical person, person appertain", in other words, those Morpheme, inflected for number a ...
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 In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical obj ...
– 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 ASPECT Volume 9: Performance ''ASPECT'' was a biannual DVD The DVD (common abbreviation for Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc) is a digital optical disc data stor ...
, 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 or
focus FOCUS is a fourth-generation programming language (4GL) computer programming programming language, language and development environment that is used to build database queries. Produced by Information Builders Inc., it was originally developed for d ...
.


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 Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ph ...
s (VPs),
Phrase structure grammar The term phrase structure grammar was originally introduced by Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system ...
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 Grammatical number, number and Grammatical person, person appertain", in other words, those Morpheme, inflected for number a ...
phrases and
non-finite verb A nonfinite verb is a verb A verb, from the Latin ''wikt:verbum#Latin, verbum'' meaning ''word'', is a word (part of speech) that in syntax conveys an action (''bring'', ''read'', ''walk'', ''run'', ''learn''), an occurrence (''happen'', ''becom ...
phrases while
dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling th ...
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 language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages have a writing system composed of glyphs to inscribe the ...
*
Constituent (linguistics) In 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 portion of a se ...
*
Dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling th ...
*
Finite verb Traditionally, a finite verb (from la, fīnītus, past participle of to put an end to, bound, limit) is the form "to which Grammatical number, number and Grammatical person, person appertain", in other words, those Morpheme, inflected for number a ...
*
Head (linguistics) In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include p ...
*
Non-finite verb A nonfinite verb is a verb A verb, from the Latin ''wikt:verbum#Latin, verbum'' meaning ''word'', is a word (part of speech) that in syntax conveys an action (''bring'', ''read'', ''walk'', ''run'', ''learn''), an occurrence (''happen'', ''becom ...
*
Phrase structure grammar The term phrase structure grammar was originally introduced by Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system ...
*
Sentence (linguistics) In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include p ...
*
Syntactic categoryA syntactic category is a syntactic unit that theories of syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of Sentence (linguistics), sentences (sentence structure) in a given Natural langu ...
*
Verb phrase In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ph ...
*
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 where at least one of whose components is selectionally constrained or restricted ...
*
X-bar theory In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include p ...

X-bar theory


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