Block Diagramming: Types of Phrases

Updated on November 10, 2017

We are now diving into the meat of block diagramming! In this tutorial we are going to learn the different types of phrases and how they work within a sentence to give it meaning.

Remember that I am using the words 'clause' and 'phrase' interchangeably. Some of the types of phrases we will discuss will grammatically be a clause. Using the word 'phrasing' will cover both grammatical features.

There are nine different types of phrases that we will discuss. Below, is a photo of the different types of phrases, along with examples.


Below are a few videos covering the different types of phrases. All of the phrases mentioned here will not be covered but should give you a good ground in how phrases function.

Prepositional Phrase

A prepositional phrase is a phrase containing one of the common prepositions and its object, referred to as the object of the preposition. It's basic function is to show the relationship of a noun to another noun.

Example: the book is under the table.

The word 'under' shows the relationship between 'book' and 'table.' Prepositions show these relationships in several categories:

  1. motion towards its object (Jesus went into the house)
  2. motion away from its object (Jesus went away from the house)
  3. location of its object (Jesus sat in the house)
  4. agent or instrument of the object (Jesus saved us by/through His blood)
  5. reason of the object (Jesus saved us because of God's love)
  6. time of the object (Jesus came into Jerusalem during the Passover)

Sometimes prepositions are comprised of more than one word. These are known as compound prepositions. The most common are:

  • according to
  • because of
  • in front of
  • by way of
  • on account of
  • next to

When you encounter a compound preposition count it as a single word preposition.

Genitive Phrase

A genitive phrase is a phrase which begins with the English word 'of.' Like prepositional phrases they show a relationship to a noun. Most often times a genitive phrase is used to show some type of possession. They differ slightly from prepositional phrases in that they don't have an object because the phrase itself is considered an object and points back to a single noun.

Example: the blood of Jesus

The words 'of Jesus' is considered to be the entire genitive and points back to the the noun 'blood.'

Similar to to prepositional phrases, genitive phrases are also categorized. According to Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Dan Wallace, 1996, Zondervan Publishing House) there are at least fifteen categories (pp.76-136). The extent of these categories is much too broad for the scope of this tutorial. It is sufficient enough for our purposes simply to be able to identify the genitive phrase.

Participial Phrase

A participial phrase is a phrase that contains a participial verb. These types of phrases usually convey how an action is carried out.

Example: Dying on a cross, Jesus saved the world.

The participle 'dying' shows how the action of saving occurred. It is often referred to as an instrumental means.

Participial phrases are most times subservient to the main verb. In our example the verb 'dying' is subordinate to the main verb of the sentence 'saved.' Most times they function adjectivally or adverbial. Context is usually the best way to tell how a participle is functioning. Some grammarians would make a distinction between a participle and a gerund (which functions like an adjective) but for this tutorial we do not make that distinction.

Appositional Phrase

An appositional phrase is a phrase which further explains or renames the noun already mentioned.

Example: Jesus, the Son of God, came to save the world. 

The phrase 'Son of God' is renaming, or clarifying further, Jesus' identity. You will encounter these most times during the greetings of an epistle. Note also, that our phrase is both appositional as well as genitive. Be aware of common constructions like this when you are block diagramming.

Unmarked Phrase

Unmarked, also called Asyndeton, is a phrase which has no apparent connection to the preceding clauses or phrases. Most phrases will have some kind of indicator such as a conjunction, relative pronoun, or other word to indicate a switch. Unmarked phrases do not.

Example: She will bear a son.

The above phrase has no real connection with any other part of speech in the preceding phrases. Often times these types of phrases will be the main phrase or clause of sentence.

Infinitive Phrase

An Infinitive phrase is a phrase with the word 'to' attached to the basic form of a verb.

Example: Jesus came to save sinners.

The phrase 'to save' is our infinitive phrase. The can function sometimes as the "direct object" of a verb or even as an object of prepositions (Wallace, pp.588-589).

Infinitives are often used to show purpose, intent, or the result of an action. Care should be taken when analyzing infinitives.

Conjunctive Phrase

Conjunctive phrases are phrases that begin with one of the coordinating conjunctions.

Example: She will bear a son and you shall call his name, Jesus.

You can clearly see how the conjunction 'and' connects the first part of the sentence. Their main function is simply to connect other phrases and clauses in order to keep the flow of thought going.

Conjunctive phrases are also used to identify lists or contrasts. We will learn more about lists in another tutorial.

Relative Phrase

Relative phrases always begin with a relative pronoun. In English these are who, whom, whose, whoever, which, and sometimes, that.

Example: Jesus is the one who saved the world. 

The relative pronoun, like other pronouns, will most times have an antecedent. Antecedents always point back to a previous noun. In our example above the relative pronoun 'who' points back to its antecedent, 'Jesus.'

Sometimes the word 'that' functions as a relative pronoun rather than a demonstrative pronoun. There is a simple test in order to determine how it is functioning. Simply replace the word 'that' with the proper relative pronoun. If it still makes sense then it is a relative pronoun. If it cannot make sense then more than likely it is functioning as a demonstrative pronoun. Using our example above we can say,

Jesus is the one that saved the world. 

If we replace 'that' with the word 'who' the sentence still makes sense. Therefore, we conclude that it is functioning as a relative pronoun. Let's change the sentence.

Jesus is the one who saved that world

Now when we replace the word 'that' with another relative pronoun we conclude that the sentence cannot make sense. It is functioning as a demonstrative.

As long as you keep this simple rule in mind you should have no problem determining when the word 'that' is functioning as a relative pronoun and when it is not.

Substantival Phrases

These are probably the toughest of all the phrases to identify. In short, substantival phrases are acting as a noun but contain a verb. They are very tricky to spot but there is one major way of identifying a substantival:

Because most substantival phrases are introduced by a relative pronoun you should always check to see if the relative pronoun points back to an antecedent. If it does not, more than likely it will be substantival.

Example: In order to fulfill all which the Lord had commanded, the people went to the mountain.

In our above example there is no antecedent for the relative pronoun 'which.' We can then conclude that it is functioning substantively.

Be very careful and take your time identifying these types of phrases.

This ends our tutorial on types of phrases. Our next tutorial will cover how to identify the main phrase(s) of a sentence. Below are the links for the first two parts:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Basic Grammatical Concepts


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