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Phrases and Sentences

2.1 WORD GROUPS

Very young children use single words when they speak, but they soon out- grow that inefficient way of communicating. They learn how to make themselves understood by using words in groups. The response that they get from other people teaches them which of the word groups they are using make sense and which do not. In this way they progress, learning language skills by trial and error until they can frame word groups that make complete sense.

Words are the building blocks of language. Until we can build words up into meaningful groups and make meaningful connections between one group of words and another, we cannot use language efficiently.

The study of grammar is essentially the study of how words behave in groups. Grammar explains the relationships between one word and another and the relationships between one group of words and another.

2.2 PHRASES

Not all word groups make complete sense. Here are some examples of word groups that do not:

  • during her holiday
  • after my twenty-first birthday
  • considering his injury
  • in that street
  • beneath the foundations

Each of those word groups makes some sense. No English-speaking person would dismiss any of them as nonsense, but in every case the meaning is incomplete. None of them can stand alone.

Word groups such as those are phrases.

Although a phrase cannot make complete sense on its own, it can be used as part of a word group that does make complete sense. Like this

  1. Our neighbour wrote several postcards during her holiday.
  2. I was given a pay rise after my twenty first birthday
  3. Considering his injury, he played a remarkable game.
  4. We saw two empty houses in that street.
  5. The ground shifted beneath the foundations.

Phrases play a very important part in our use of language, and we shall study their grammatical function in detail later. For the moment, it is sufficient to be able to recognise a phrase and to understand how it differs from a sentence.

2.3 SENTENCES

In Section 2.2 we saw that a phrase can be added to another word group with the result that the incomplete sense of the phrase becomes part of the complete sense of the larger word group. Like this:

  1. Our neighbour wrote several postcards during her holiday.
  2. I was given a pay rise after my twenty-first birthday.
  3. Considering his injury, he played a remarkable game.
  4. We saw two empty houses in that street.
  5. The ground shifted beneath the foundations.

Notice this very important fact. The word groups (in capitals) to which the phrases (in italics have been added do not need the phrases in the way that the phrases need them, The phrases add something to the meaning of the word groups to which they are joined, but they do not complete their meaning.

The word groups in capitals can stand alone. They make complete sense without the help of the phrases:

OUR NEIGHBOUR WROTE SEVERAL POSTCARDS.

I WAS GIVEN A PAY RISE.

HE PLAYED A REMARKABLE GAME

WE SAW TWO EMPTY HOUSES.

THE GROUND SHIFTED.

Word groups such as these are sentences.

REMEMBER

  • A sentence is a group of words that makes complete sense.
  • It can stand on its own without needing any additional words to complete its meaning.
  • IT is an independent, self-contained, completely understandable utterance.

2.4 FOUR KINDS OF SENTENCES

All sentences make complete sense on their own, but not all sentences do the same kind of work.

Consider these four sentences:

  1. We have enough coal for this winter.
  2. Are you sure?
  3. Look in the cellar.
  4. What a lot you have bought!

Sentence 1 makes a statement.

Sentence 2 asks a question.

Sentence 3 gives a command.

Sentence 4 utters an exclamation.

Sentences can perform four different functions: make statements, ask questions; give commands; utter exclamations.

When grammar breaks down, sense breaks down. 

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Read the Previous post on this subject: 1.1 LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION

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