Noun phrase, Prepositional phrase, Appositive phrase, Absolute phrase, Infinitive phrase, Gerund phrase, Participial phrase! Which modifies nouns; which renames a word that precedes it; which modifies the entire sentence, which….
This rather typical lesson in the use of one of the most wonderful writing tools, the one that allows readers to clearly visualize what we are describing–the phrase–is enough to make adults take the long way around grammar instruction and just write!
Yet a well-turned phrase, bringing a foldout spectacle to what otherwise could be just plain-jane words on a page, is necessary to all good writing, non-fiction as well as fiction. Producing a message is much more fun and fulfilling than labeling words according to the part they play in each sentence. So how can we do that without learning which phrase does what? Think about what you see, hear, feel; use all of your senses to describe for readers what’s in your mind or your line of vision. If you’re not sure of the best layout for your thought, pick up a book by your favorite author and see how she/he does it, where does she place words in her most compelling sentences.
If you need more advice, pick up Harry R. Noden’s book, Image Grammar, and be awed by grammar. I’ll share two examples from published authors, and then I’d love it if you would offer a sample or two from your own reading or writing.
And then, suddenly, in the very dead of the night, there came a sound to my ears, clear, resonant, and unmistakable. — The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conon Doyle
Shifting the weight of the line to his left shoulder and kneeling carefully, he washed his hand in the ocean and held it there, submerged, for more than a minute, watching the blood trail away and the steady movement of the water against his hand as the boat moved. — Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
By using phrases more effectively, our voices as advocates for change will intensify. Critiques of our work may include the phrase: a message more memorable than the parting statement of Rhett Butler to Scarlett \”Frankly, my dear, I don\’t give a d_ _ _!\” and more persuasive than the challenging words of JFK to the American people. Inaugural address, 1961