2.2 Noun Phrases, Adjective Phrases, Verb Phrases & Adverb Phrases

A phrase is a group of words which is not centred on a verb:

…“the man with a big head”, “extraordinarily dull”, “the day before yesterday”, “without a clue”, “of course”, “a second away from death”, “too stupid to breathe”…

But what kind of phrases are they?

A noun phrase is a phrase which can replace a noun in a sentence, likewise for an adjective phrase, adverb phrase, or verb phrase:

“There was trouble in Timperley last night when naughty Simon arrived.”

…could become…

“There was always going to be a whole lot of trouble in that vile little village when the awfully naughty twelve year old tearaway turned up after too many cans of coke.”

Noun: “Timperley” can be replaced with the noun phrase “that vile little village

Verb: “was” can be replaced with the verb phrase “was always going to be

Noun: “trouble” can be replaced with the noun phrase “a whole lot of trouble

Noun: “Simon” can be replaced with the noun phrase “the awfully naughty twelve year old tearaway

Adjective: “naughty” can be replaced with the adjective phrase “awfully naughty

Verb: “arrived” can be replaced with the verb phrase “turned up

…noun phrases, verb phrases & adjective phrases work just like words in a sentence,  acting as the building blocks of which sentences are made… they just contain more than one word. Expanding words into phrases is one alternative always open to an author; alternately phrases can be contracted into words. Choose two each of noun phrases, verb phrases & adjective phrases in the following article and replace them with single words; also choose two each of nouns, verbs & adjectives and expand them into phrases (be prepared to comment on the effect):

‘Ground Zero mosque’? The reality is less provocative

Charlie Brooker, The Guardian, Monday 23 August 2010

Things seem awfully heated in America right now; so heated you could probably toast a marshmallow by jabbing it on a stick and holding it toward the Atlantic. Millions are hopping mad over the news that a bunch of triumphalist Muslim extremists are about to build a “victory mosque” slap bang in the middle of Ground Zero.

The planned “ultra-mosque” will be a staggering 5,600ft tall – more than five times higher than the tallest building on Earth – and will be capped with an immense dome of highly-polished solid gold, carefully positioned to bounce sunlight directly toward the pavement, where it will blind pedestrians and fry small dogs. The main structure will be delimited by 600 minarets, each shaped like an upraised middle finger, and housing a powerful amplifier: when synchronised, their combined sonic might will be capable of relaying the muezzin’s call to prayer at such deafening volume, it will be clearly audible in the Afghan mountains, where thousands of terrorists are poised to celebrate by running around with scarves over their faces, firing AK-47s into the sky and yelling whatever the foreign word for “victory” is.

I’m exaggerating. But I’m only exaggerating a tad more than some of the professional exaggerators who initially raised objections to the “Ground Zero mosque“. They keep calling it the “Ground Zero mosque”, incidentally, because it’s a catchy title that paints a powerful image – specifically, the image of a mosque at Ground Zero.

When I heard about it – in passing, in a soundbite – I figured it was a US example of the sort of inanely confrontational fantasy scheme Anjem Choudary might issue a press release about if he fancied winding up the tabloids for the 900th time this year. I was wrong. The “Ground Zero mosque” is a genuine proposal, but it’s slightly less provocative than its critics’ nickname makes it sound. For one thing, it’s not at Ground Zero. Also, it isn’t a mosque.

Wait, it gets duller. It’s not being built by extremists either. Cordoba House, as it’s known, is a proposed Islamic cultural centre, which, in addition to a prayer room, will include a basketball court, restaurant, and swimming pool. Its aim is to improve inter-faith relations. It’ll probably also have comfy chairs and people who smile at you when you walk in, the monsters.

To get to the Cordoba Centre from Ground Zero, you’d have to walk in the opposite direction for two blocks, before turning a corner and walking a bit more. The journey should take roughly two minutes, or possibly slightly longer if you’re heading an angry mob who can’t hear your directions over the sound of their own enraged bellowing.

Perhaps spatial reality functions differently on the other side of the Atlantic, but here in London, something that is “two minutes’ walk and round a corner” from something else isn’t actually “in” the same place at all. I once had a poo in a pub about two minutes’ walk from Buckingham Palace. I was not subsequently arrested and charged with crapping directly onto the Queen’s pillow. That’s how “distance” works in Britain. It’s also how distance works in America, of course, but some people are currently pretending it doesn’t, for daft political ends.

New York being a densely populated city, there are lots of other buildings and businesses within two blocks of Ground Zero, including a McDonald’s and a Burger King, neither of which has yet been accused of serving milkshakes and fries on hallowed ground. Regardless, for the opponents of Cordoba House, two blocks is too close, period. Frustratingly, they haven’t produced a map pinpointing precisely how close is OK.

That’s literally all I’d ask them in an interview. I’d stand there pointing at a map of the city. Would it be offensive here? What about here? Or how about way over there? And when they finally picked a suitable spot, I’d ask them to draw it on the map, sketching out roughly how big it should be, and how many windows it’s allowed to have. Then I’d hand them a colour swatch and ask them to decide on a colour for the lobby carpet. And the conversation would continue in this vein until everyone in the room was in tears. Myself included.

That hasn’t happened. Instead, 70% of Americans are opposed to the “Ground Zero mosque”, doubtless in many cases because they’ve been led to believe it literally is a mosque at Ground Zero. And if not . . . well, it must be something significant. Otherwise why would all these pundits be so angry about it? And why would anyone in the media listen to them with a straight face?

According to a recent poll, one in five Americans believes Barack Obama is a Muslim, even though he isn’t. A quarter of those who believe he’s a Muslim also claimed he talks about his faith too much. Americans aren’t dumb. Clearly these particular Americans have either gone insane or been seriously misled. Where are they getting their information?

Sixty per cent said they learned it from the media. Which means it’s time for the media to give up.

Seriously, broadcasters, journalists: just give up now. Because either you’re making things worse, or no one’s paying attention anyway. May as well knock back a few Jagermeisters, unplug the autocue, and just sit there dumbly repeating whichever reality-warping meme the far right wants to go viral this week. What’s that? Obama is Gargamel and he’s killing all the Smurfs? Sod it. Whatever. Roll titles.

            …but what of the final phrase: “after too many cans of coke” tagged on which replaces nothing?

“There was trouble in Timperley last night when naughty Simon arrived.”

                “There was always going to be a whole lot of trouble in that vile little village when the awfully naughty twelve year old tearaway turned up after too many cans of coke.”

…this is an adverb phrase (also called an adverbial, or a prepositional phrase because they often start with little words called prepositions, such as “after”, “in”, “out”, etc.). it could replace an adverb, such as “yesterday” or “later”.

Adverbs / adverbials answer questions in a sentence such as:

when?              “today”, “last night”, “on the day before yesterday”…

where?             “over there”, “behind the bike shed”,  “in London”…

how?               “quickly”, “slowly”, “with a little bit of luck”…

Adverbs / adverbials add information to a sentence which isn’t grammatically essential:

“I killed the old woman (with a rusty hammer) (behind the opera house) (with a little bit of luck) because I wanted to rob her golden tiara (real bad).”

Adverbs often end with “–ly”, but often do not, e.g. “often.

Adverbials often begin with a preposition: “after my dinner”, but don’t have to, e.g. “the day after tomorrow”.

…the writer’s flexible friend…

…but most of all, adverbials are a writer’s flexible friend, allowing her to add in little bits of information at any point of the sentence outside of the dictates of that sentences grammar (i.e. the kind of sentence demanded by its verbs).

…the common prepositions:



























































Adverbials, being the author’s “flexible friend” are consequently always worth commenting on in any text, as they give a lot away about the text’s purpose (P), how it intends to manipulate the target audience’s reactions (A) in its context (C) of production.

            …it can be seen how this works for any given P, A, C…

e.g. A newspaper report in a left-leaning broadsheet taking the shallow and selfish life of a celebrity to task.

            …simply devise a dozen prepositional phrases using the list of all the common prepositions above which will help you meet your purpose and use them to create a text.

            Once the text is created, omit these prepositional phrases to judge their impact; then it can be clearly seen how these optional phrases can so clearly signal an author’s intentions.

6 thoughts on “2.2 Noun Phrases, Adjective Phrases, Verb Phrases & Adverb Phrases

  1. i was doing some work on my english assignment-noun and verb phrase..but i enjoyed your take on the mosque..glad there s still some sobber head in the u.s.

  2. It is so close to be called exhaustive. It’s going yo help me a long way in learning correct English. Thanks to all who are behind this work.

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