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The chapter "Phrases" refers to the inner structure of the constituents of a sentence (subject, object, adverbial). It describes what elements and what combinations of elements can form constituents. A description of the constituents as a whole can be found in the chapter "Constituents".

Simple and complex constituents
Heads, attributes, phrases
Complex and compound phrases

Simple and complex constituents

A constituent of a sentence can be simple or complex:

Simple constituents
Subject Predicate   Object
Kühe fressen Gras.
Complex constituents
Subject Predicate Object
Die Kühe des Nachbarn  fressen saftiges, grünes Gras.

A complex constituent consists of a central part, the head, and of extensions that restrict or add to the sense of the head. An extension, on its turn, can also consist of a head and extensions. In this manner, a sentence can be divided into heads and extensions down to the level of individual words:


Der alte Mann hütet die Kinder seines jüngsten Sohns.



accusative object

noun phrase

noun phrase


ext. =
noun phrase


ext. = extension

Heads, attributes, phrases

Complex constituents of a sentence consist of a head and one or more extensions (see above). The most important extensions are the attributes. See:


A head and its extensions form a word group or phrase. An extension, on its turn, can also be a phrase, i.e. it can consist of a head and one or more extensions. The phrases are named after the word class of their head:

Noun phrase die Kühe des Nachbarn 
Pronoun phrase keiner deiner Freunde
Adjective phrase äußerst zufrieden
Participle phrase in Höhlen lebend
Adverb phrase dort hinter dem Haus
Prepositional phrase  in einer Wurstfabrik

For more information about form and function of a phrase type, click on the corresponding name.

Complex predicates (verb groups) are not treated here. See Complex predicates and Predicatives for more information.

Complex and compound phrases

Complex phrases consist of a head and one or more extensions (see above). When a head has more than one extension (attribute), different dependence relations between them are possible.

die Reise der Freunde meiner Schwester nach Amsterdam

See Complex phrases 

Compound phrases consist of two or more similar parts having the same function in the phrase. The parts are connected by conjunctions like und, oder, sowohl ... als auch.

Herr Müller und seine Frau sind angekommen
die Bestimmung
des Ortes und der Zeit

See Compound phrases 

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