Definition of phrase in English:



  • 1A small group of words standing together as a conceptual unit, typically forming a component of a clause.

    ‘‘to improve standards’ is the key phrase here’
    • ‘Breathe naturally, lout slowly, silently repeating your focus word or phrase every time you exhale.’
    • ‘Infra dig is short for the Latin phrase infra dignitatem which means beneath one's dignity.’
    • ‘Ultimately, what is wanted is a computer routine similar to the grammar checker which would be programmed to highlight words and phrases which were likely to be misunderstood at the receiving end.’
    • ‘Only then did I start going after the usual suspects: phrases, adjectives, adverbs, single words.’
    • ‘Google's text ads are directly related to the word or phrase you're searching for.’
    • ‘Longer sentences will have more clauses and phrases, more punctuation and other grammar and punctuation problems that may cloud meaning.’
    • ‘A language, though, is not just a collection of words; to know a language you also need to know how to combine words to form phrases and sentences; you also need to know how to create words from more primitive elements.’
    • ‘The more key words and phrases, which are scanned, the greater your chances are of being selected for an interview.’
    • ‘They could add descriptive words, phrases or sentences, or they could write a poem, haiku, alliteration, metaphor, or perhaps words from a song.’
    • ‘Don't forget to include the word or phrase you'd like to appear in the winning story.’
    • ‘Ideally, a single web page should be optimized for not more than three words and key phrases.’
    • ‘Associated with these tendencies was a greater focus on single words, rather than on phrases or clauses.’
    • ‘Moreoever the rest of the lines explain and expand these references by using adjectival phrases and subordinate clauses which tell the reader to look for explanation within the poem itself.’
    • ‘Languages that work like this, where whole phrases or clauses can be formed in one word by attaching affixes to noun stems or verbs, are called polysynthetic.’
    • ‘Internet chat rooms are used as an online version of focus groups that use data mining techniques to pick out certain key words or phrases.’
    • ‘Their detailed responses, including new words and phrases, were used to expand conceptual definitions and further revise the conceptual framework.’
    • ‘Points will be awarded for two things: how obscure the connection is and how unusual the word or phrase you searched for is.’
    • ‘Because some of the new stories are shorter than usual (there's a blessed relief), I'll be rather more selective in the words or phrases you may nominate.’
    • ‘Like other adverbial words and phrases, nevertheless floats around under the joint influence of meaning, syntax and style, but it usually washes up at the start of a clause.’
    • ‘It's obligatory to have either a direct object or a preposition phrase with ‘for’.’
    expression, group of words, word group, construction, clause, locution, wording, term, turn of phrase, idiom, idiomatic expression, set phrase, phrasal idiom, phrasal verb
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    1. 1.1 An idiomatic or short pithy expression.
      ‘his favourite phrase is ‘it's a pleasure’’
      • ‘Soames looked him up and down before dismissing him with a pithy phrase from a great wartime leader.’
      • ‘And the connection is a pithy phrase of Deputy Noonan's dating back to the 1987 election campaign.’
      • ‘It was just that no one was willing to replace a pithy phrase with either an ugly acronym or a yawn-inducing mouthful.’
      • ‘‘What counts is not the level of spending but its quality’ was one of his favorite phrases during the 1997 election campaign.’
      • ‘She loves interesting expressions, intriguing phrases and gets very excited when I describe a character in Trumpet as a diamond geezer.’
      • ‘You will develop a flair for short, pithy phrases that will identify you as the writer, whether your byline is published or your story is magically morphed into a brief.’
      • ‘Remember two of BW's favourite phrases, ‘Everything is negotiable’ and, ‘If you don't ask you don't get.’’
      • ‘I write stuff and you lot have the facility to dissect it with a few pithy phrases - if that's what you feel like doing.’
      • ‘Some idiomatic phrases can bear a sense which is the opposite of what the words appear to say.’
      • ‘Though it may have been somewhat culturally insensitive or politically incorrect to use the phrase, the expression won't qualify as a racist slur.’
      • ‘My friend Chris has started to adopt phrases and expressions from the TV show 24.’
      • ‘Science, and still more technology, was the future of mankind, and one of Snow's favorite phrases was about those who had the future in their bones.’
      • ‘His efforts in producing the polished phrase, the pithy retort are far greater than his efforts to tell a fascinating story clearly and concisely.’
      • ‘It might not be a bad idea to review your own favorite phrases and expressions occasionally and replace them with fresh variations.’
      • ‘After an advance screening, the movie critic's duty is to provide pithy phrases suitable for use in trailers and newspaper notices.’
      • ‘Not just bytes, she is besotted by witty one-liners and mushy expressions, phrases.’
      • ‘As a result, many of the phrases and expressions were translated into something very different in the subtitles or dubbing.’
      • ‘One of these wrote down things he should try in Bulgaria, and things he should avoid, as well as some phrases and useful expressions he kept with him for the entire two years.’
      • ‘Isn't it funny how innocuous little expressions and everyday phrases can well and truly confuse our cousins from across the Atlantic ocean, and vice versa?’
      • ‘At moments the Republicans would break into cheers or laughter at a phrase or facial expression of one of the two candidates, to the bewilderment of the Democrats.’
      maxim, saying, proverb, aphorism, adage, saw, axiom, formula, expression, rule, dictum, precept, epigram, gnome
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    2. 1.2Music A group of notes forming a distinct unit within a longer passage.
      ‘the succession of downward phrases in the orchestra is so moving’
      • ‘Students were able to hear and see specifically the beat on which the artist took a rubato in the phrase or where a crescendo began and how the musical lines were woven together.’
      • ‘The musicians could tell an out-of-tune note within a musical phrase, and the Chinese could understand their language when the words were spoken in a sentence.’
      • ‘A note, a phrase, or a section of music has embodied meaning, because it points to and makes us expect another musical (not extramusical) event.’
      • ‘Pianist One favored the use of delaying the onset of the melody note for beginnings of phrases and melodic peaks.’
      • ‘It also is an excellent way of testing our students' memories; if they can recite or sing the note names of a phrase in rhythm, we can be sure the music is in their heads and not just in their fingers.’
    3. 1.3Ballet A group of steps within a longer sequence or dance.
      • ‘Given the circumstances, Bouder gave an incredibly polished rendition of the role, weaving the choreographic phrases into a dancerly whole with clarity and detail.’
      • ‘The dance occurred on two split-level stages and is a sequence of exciting, unexpected dance phrases.’
      • ‘Unlike many ballet choreographers, Webre allows his dancers to develop movement phrases through improvisation.’
      • ‘True, he sometimes over-restricts himself to the point that you worry his warehouse of steps and phrases is understocked.’
      • ‘Rather than elongated phrases, Jones created choreography comprised of signs, gestural language, and everyday movement.’


  • 1with object and adverbial Put into a particular form of words.

    ‘it's important to phrase the question correctly’
    • ‘After I learned to phrase suggestions as questions, I still received responses that expressed uncritical compliance.’
    • ‘The way a question is phrased can make the difference between directing a client to do something he or she isn't committed to do and getting the client to take ownership of his or her own path.’
    • ‘There's a science to doing market research and most people haven't learned to phrase a question correctly or they ask it in a way that creates biases.’
    • ‘Josh Chafetz suggests that all of the papers merely latched on to how one reporter phrased a follow-up question.’
    • ‘But you have tried to phrase your words in a more pleasant tone.’
    • ‘This question is phrased very generally indeed, and it is quite impossible to conclude from it that there is a potential conflict of interest.’
    • ‘Although each question is phrased differently, all basically require the student to combine description with analysis and discussion.’
    • ‘For once I could only think about Becca, the uneasiness growing as I remembered the look in her eyes, and the deliberate way she phrased her last words to me.’
    • ‘The way Hugo phrased his words they were more of a command than a request and Solomon grudging obliged.’
    • ‘At the end of it all are words, pure and simple - and how you phrase those words and get across what you're saying is the most important thing.’
    • ‘He phrased it as a question, but Damien knew him well enough to know that it was a thinly veiled demand that his brother stated.’
    • ‘If you hold such a belief, you have to phrase your words accordingly, and Schmitt did so masterfully.’
    • ‘Katherine tried to find the correct words in which to phrase her question.’
    • ‘The second question phrases the policy as one for which ‘the government would pay.’’
    • ‘I suspect from how you've framed and phrased your question that you have some real problems relating to people in general or maybe women in particular.’
    • ‘It is my fault, I did not phrase the question correctly.’
    • ‘Ultimately, how progressive Americans look depends (in public opinion polls) on how the questions are phrased.’
    • ‘The archbishop phrased his words with care, as is his way.’
    • ‘George paused, pondering how to phrase his next words.’
    • ‘Speculation is rife as to how Chen will phrase his words May 20 in a bid to ‘square the circle’ of trying to keep China happy and at the same time not budging on the sovereignty issue.’
    express, put into words, put, word, style, formulate, couch, frame, set forth, utter, say, tell, articulate, verbalize, communicate, convey, get across, put across
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    1. 1.1often as noun phrasing Divide (music) into phrases in a particular way, especially in performance.
      ‘original phrasing brought out unexpected aspects of the music’
      • ‘Maya Homberger's phrasing on the Baroque violin is peerless, her tone warm and expressive.’
      • ‘Witt's music is strongly Mozartian in phrasing and flavor, so much so that he sometimes sounds like a clone of the famous composer.’
      • ‘You can assess how much expression to give, and how to phrase the music in the absence of score markings.’
      • ‘The composer provides clear indications for dynamics, pedaling and phrasing.’
      • ‘Selim Palmgren's works for solo piano evoke a similar atmosphere, and somehow Finnish pianists understand perfectly how to phrase his music.’


  • turn of phrase

    • A person's particular or characteristic manner of expression.

      ‘a vituperative turn of phrase’
      • ‘For the international market, Sagnier also brings an excellent turn of phrase in English with a sexy accent.’
      • ‘He had a wonderful brain and a wonderful turn of phrase and he was so witty.’
      • ‘Very little (apart from a good man, a good cup of coffee, or a good piece of steak) gives me as much pleasure as a nice turn of phrase, an unexpected pun, or any other clever wordplay.’
      • ‘Merchant - his real name was Dennis Williams - who wrote the lyrics to many of Ray's compositions, had an elegant turn of phrase, a genuine concern for his fellow man, and endless energy.’
      • ‘I haven't read the book so can't comment on its contents beyond noting in passing that Fallaci seems to court controversy and has an ugly turn of phrase.’
      • ‘You know, anybody can use an unfortunate turn of phrase.’
      • ‘From acoustic ballads to blues-inspired rockers, and back to country croons, Rogers' signature chord progressions and raspy vocals are always present, as is his knack for a clever turn of phrase.’
      • ‘You have as much chance of hearing an unusual turn of phrase from a politician as you would from a player interview on Football Focus.’
      • ‘She has a sense of humour, I think it would be fair to say, and a nifty turn of phrase.’
      • ‘But one of his political tricks is to lull people into seeing him as a bit of a grey plodder, when suddenly he'll surprise with a devastating turn of phrase, a damaging soundbite and barbed humour.’
      expression, idiom, choice of words
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Mid 16th century (in the sense ‘style or manner of expression’): via late Latin from Greek phrasis, from phrazein ‘declare, tell’.