Sentences consist of clauses and/or phrases. Both clauses and phrases have different roles in a sentence; therefore, it is important to learn the difference between them and how to form new clauses and phrases.

Clause

What is a clause?

A clause is a group of words containing a subject and a verb. The subject is a person or thing, and the verb is the action that is carried out. A clause can make sense on its own in a sentence. A clause contains phrases that help to make up a sentence. 

There are two main types of clauses: independent clause and dependent clause.

An independent clause is a clause that makes sense on its own as a sentence.

E.g. I ate a cupcake. ➜ This is an independent clause because it contains the subject (I) and the verb (ate). It makes sense on its own as a complete sentence.

A dependent clause is also known as a subordinating clause. It is a clause that doesn’t make sense on its own – it depends on an independent clause to make sense.

E.g. because I was hungry. ➜ This is a dependent clause because it doesn’t make sense on its own as it doesn’t convey a complete thought. Therefore we need to add an independent clause to complete the sentence.

Dependent clauses usually begin with subordinating conjunctions. In the example above, the subordinating conjunction is because. Other examples of subordinating conjunctions include: although, after, if, when, since, until, etc.

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Phrase

What is a phrase?

A phrase is a group of words without a subject-verb component.
A phrase doesn’t make sense on its own as it needs to be used in a sentence with a subject and a verb.

There are different types of phrases depending on which element the phrase acts as.

The types of phrases are: 

  • Noun phrase
  • Verb phrase
  • Adjective phrase 
  • Adverb phrase 
  • Prepositional phrase 

Noun phrase
A noun phrase consists of a noun plus a modifier or determiner, e.g. best friend.
As a noun, it can function as the subject, object, or both.

➜ Stacey is my best friend.

Verb phrase
A verb phrase consists of the main verb plus a modal verb +/or a helping verb e.g. was playing. In this example, was is the helping verb and the main verb is sleeping. So the main verb comes at the end of the phrase.

➜ Tom was sleeping on the sofa.

Adjective phrase
An adjective phrase describes a noun or pronoun e.g. very pretty.

➜ Lucy is very pretty.

Adverb phrase
An adverb phrase modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb e.g. really quickly.

➜ Jamie ran really quickly.

Prepositional phrase
A prepositional phrase describes a place time or direction e.g. in the bin.

➜ I threw the paper in the bin.

Gerund phrase

A gerund phrase is similar to a noun phrase. It consists of a verb ending in -ing that functions as a noun e.g. running slowly.

➜ She was walking slowly.

An easy way to identify the difference between a clause and a phrase is to look for the subject and verb in the sentence.
In order to turn a phrase into a clause, you just need to add a subject and a verb.

Example

The prepositional phrase ‘in the box‘ doesn’t contain a subject and a verb. Therefore we can add a subject and a verb in order to turn it into a clause like this:

The cat sits in the box.

The subject is the cat, the verb is sit, and the prepositional phrase is in the box

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