UNIVERSIDAD LIBRE DE COLOMBIA
COLLEGE OF EUCATION
MASTERS IN SCIENCES OF EDUCATION WITH EMPHASIS
ON DIDACTICS IN ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
PROFESSOR: SANDRA IBARRA ROMERO.
PHRASES AS CONSTITUENTS
When we are going to communicate and use language in meaningful way, we may pick
words and think of different ways to combine them. We may also think of their function
into a sentence, that we can call basic sentence pattern constituents, such as subject,
predicate, verb, direct or indirect object, subject or object complement.
In this presentation we are going to talk about constituents. A constituent is an element or
component that is considered as part of a construction. In this way, words are constituents
and the construction is the sentence.
But there are larger constituents than words, that we commonly call phrases. And these
phrases, of course, make up sentences.
For the purpose of this presentation, rather than focusing on complex technical definitions
and in order to avoid confusion, we are going to focus on the basic constituents of the
sentence and a formula in each case to explain:
How they are formed
And how the fit together.
Additionally we can observe some examples and practical exercises.
A. NOUN PHRASE.
Can be a single word: Noun or pronoun
He kissed her
Pronoun as subject VP Pronoun as Direct Object
Practice: Provide and example.
Or it can be complex
Formula: (Determiner) + (Premodifiers) + Head + (Postmodifiers)
My favorite Subject is Grammar
Subject DET premodifier head
The important thing is money
Determiner Premodifier Head VP NP as a SC
Practice: Follow the pattern of the formula and complete the chart.
That guy in the corner is
DET premodifier Preposition DET OP VP Nom
Practice: Identify the heads and the functions
Hagar gave Helga flowers
Practice: Identify the constituents of this sentence
They played a joke on him
B. Finite verb phrases: They serve as a predicate of a complete sentence. They have a
Formula: AUX + Head + (Complements/Objects) + (Adverbial Modifiers).
She was writing a letter last night
C. Non - finite verb phrases: They don´t contain a finite verb phrase marker (tense).
They are not used as the predicate of a sentence. They appear without a subject and
is nominal, adjectival, or adverbial. The Auxiliar becomes optional.
Formula: (AUX) + Head + (Complement/Objects) + (Adverbial Modifiers).
Practice: Identify the constituents of the following nonfinite phrase.
Eating healthy food prevents from disease.
Note: In the previous example we can observe that a gerund phrase is serving as the
subject of the sentence.
1. Infinitive Phrases: Begin with a bare infinitive or the word “to” follow by a verb
which is the head of the infinitive phrase.
- Serve as adjectival modifiers:
Example: The need to survive in this world is the origin of resourceful people.
- Serve as adverbial modifiers:
Example: Tonight we are happy to announce The Rolling Stones.
- Serve in a nominal role:
Practice: try to remember extracts from some songs and identify the previous
2. Participial phrases: They are adjectival. This means, where you could use an
adjective phrase, you can use a participial phrase with verbs ending in –ed or –ing.
The little boy, scared to death, tried to call his mom.
(As a posmodifier of a Noun Phrase)
The little red riding hood walked through the forest while observed by the wolf.
(Premodifier in a Noun Phrase)
The strong wind blowing in the north has anticipated a tornado.
(Posmodifier in a Noun Phrase)
3. Gerund Phrases: They serve as nominals. The gerund phrase commonly ends in –
(Sharing is the gerund phrase as subject.)
D. Adjective Phrases: The head adjective may be followed by a variety of modifiers,
most commonly adverb phrases or prepositional phrases.
Formula: (Intensifier or Degree Adverb) + Head + (Postmodifiers)
- Intensifiers: They are not moveable like adverbs. They normally can’t be
modified by other intensifiers. They can't serve as adverb phrases.
Examples: very, only, more, most, too, rather, quite.
This is a very difficult concept to be addressed by novice students.
(Serves as a premodifier of the NP)
- Degree adverbs: extremely, reasonably, somewhat.
The woman was terribly embarrassed by her child´s behavior.
Note: Both intensifiers and degree adverbs can be difficult to differentiate.
E. Adverb Phrases: We can anticipate that the difficulty with adverb phrases is in
relation with their movability.
Formula: (Intensifier) + Head + (Postmodifiers)
The husband arrived very late home.
(The phrase modifies the verb arrived)
The poorly written paper was the reason of the student´s bad mood.
(Poorly head adverb modifies the adjective written)
F. Prepositional Phrases: The commonly serve an adjectival or adverbial function.
Formula: Head + Object.
Practice: Identify two examples of prepositional phrases in the previous
(In a galaxy far away serves as a subject, preceded by and adverbial phrase.)
It is important to remember that certain prepositions aren´t always prepositions. This is the
case of “to”, which is the marker of an infinitive.
G. The Appositive Phrase: They are are separate constituents embedded in larger
Provide an example of an adjectival and an adverbial phrase.