Phrasing is a lot like pie….

Phrasing is an essential concept in the tuition of speech and drama skills. It is critical to effective text interpretation, whether you’re performing a poem, a speech, or a monologue. Appropriate phrasing ensures you’re communicating the meaning of the text accurately and effectively by breaking the entire text up into smaller parts (phrases) using appropriate types and lengths of pause.

Teachers explain phrasing to their students in many different ways. There’s even more contention about how to define it. I’ve suggested some definitions below. For my younger students, I precede a rigid definition with a lot of talk about PIE!

INTRODUCING THE ‘PHRASING PIE’

Let’s say you wanted to give your friend (the listener) a delicious pie (piece of text) which you have baked. You really want your friend to enjoy the pie, and you’re SO excited to deliver it to them, but then…


Whoops. You were in such a rush to give your friend some pie that you ended up throwing it in their face! It’s not a very enjoyable experience for them and it confuses your friend. It’s all too much: they’re overwhelmed, they can’t see, and they definitely can’t taste all the flavours and savour every bite.


If you want your friend to enjoy the pie, you need to give them a piece (phrase) at a time. Cut the pie into slices, put the first slice on a plate, and present it with great care and belief in how delicious your pie is!

Yum, much better! Now your friend has received just a single slice of pie so they can savour it. Now they can taste all the flavours, and take the time to enjoy (and understand) your delicious treat. They’ll love it so much, they’ll be ready for another slice soon after they’ve finished the first one. You have to give them a moment to finish chewing first, though (pause).
Eventually, your friend will have eaten the whole pie, enjoying every bite along the way.

SOME DEFINITIONS OF PHRASING

“Phrasing is the grouping together of words and phrases in order to create sense and interest in speech.” ~ Royal Irish Academy of Music

“Chunking [phrasing] is the process of packaging information into meaningful thought groups separated by pauses, like how punctuation is used in written language.” ~ Doctors Speak Up

“Grouping words together as in normal speech, pausing appropriately between phrases, clauses, and sentences.” ~ Reading Recovery Council of North America

“Phrasing refers to the way in which we cluster words together for meaning or to enhance the sense of a poem, piece of prose or drama selection. A phrase is a group of words linked together but not necessarily making sense on their own. The key to the appropriate phrasing of a poem, prose or drama selection is preparation.
• Read the selection several times. Ask yourself: what does it mean?
• Observe the punctuation which will often indicate how the author felt the piece should be phrased. Use the punctuation as a guide, but it is not always necessary to phrase according to the punctuation.
• Identify phrases that make sense on their own and ones that need to be linked to other phrases for the meaning to be clear.
• See where you should take a breath so that you don’t run out of breath when speaking.
• Practice and rehearse the piece, using varied phrase lengths to hold your audience’s interest. Remember that the purpose of phrasing is to help to interpret the selection for your audience.” ~ Irish Board of Speech & Drama