Learn the Difference Between Phrases and Clauses

Phrases and clauses are both important groups of words that make up sentences, but clauses are complete thoughts that can function on their own. Learn more about these parts of speech and writing in English grammar.

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What Is a Phrase?

The definition of phrase is a group of words that may contain the building blocks of a sentence, like a noun or a verb, that does not combine a subject (the one performing the action in a sentence) and a predicate (which tells you what the subject is doing). A phrase contributes meaning to a sentence by providing further information about the subject, object, verb, or setting. A sentence is made up of phrases, but if you were to isolate a phrase within a sentence it would not work as a complete sentence.

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8 Types of Phrases

There are several different types of phrases that serve a number of purposes in English grammar. Here are some of the most common types of phrases.

  1. 1. Noun phrase: A noun phrase consists of a noun and its adjective modifiers. In the sentence “The young smart student will graduate,” the noun phrase is “the young smart student.”
  2. 2. Verb phrase: A verb phrase that consists of a verb and its modifiers. In the sentence “My mother was walking briskly,” the verb phrase is “was walking briskly.”
  3. 3. Gerund phrase: A phrase that begins with a gerund (a verb ending with -ing that functions as a noun) and its modifiers. For example, in the sentence “Reading books is enjoyable,” the gerund phrase is “reading books.”
  4. 4. Infinitive phrase: An infinitive phrase that begins with an infinitive verb that begins with “to.” In the sentence “Gerard’s dream is to study the classics,” the infinitive phrase is “to study the classics.”
  5. 5. Appositive phrase: An appositive phrase redefines a noun with essential or non-essential information that is enclosed with commas. In the sentence, “Malcolm, my brother, is a scientist,” the appositive phrase is “my brother.”
  6. 6. Participial phrase: A participial phrase begins with a past or present participle, which involves modifying a verb to use as an adjective or a noun. For example, in the sentence, “Having taken the time to prepare, the orchestra performed beautifully,” the participle phrase is, “Having taken the time to prepare.”
  7. 7. Prepositional phrase: A prepositional phrase that begins with a preposition to describe the position or state of the subject of a sentence. In the sentence “The baker piped icing on the cake,” the prepositional phrase is “on the cake.”
  8. 8. Absolute phrase: An absolute phrase has a subject but not an action verb, and it is used to modify a whole sentence. For example, in the sentence, “He left the room, hips hips swinging,” the absolute phrase is “his hips swinging.”

What Is a Clause?

A clause is a part of a sentence that functions independently or independently as a complete thought. Clauses contain a subject (which is the actor) and a verb (which is the action the subject performs). Sentences are made up of independent and dependent clauses that describe a subject, where they are, the mood, and the action they are taking.

4 Types of Clauses

There are four types of clauses that are used in English grammatical constructions. Here are the four main types of clauses in English grammar.

  1. 1. Main clause: The main clause of a sentence contains a subject and a verb. It can stand alone as its own sentence or can be combined with a subordinate clause to provide more information. One example of an extremely short, simple main clause can be found in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the simple sentence “Drops dripped.” “Drops” is the noun that combines with the verb “dripped” to make the main clause. A compound sentence may contain two main clauses joined with a comma and coordinating conjunction that could function on their own. An example of a compound sentence is “My dog was restless, so we went for a walk.”
  2. 2. Subordinate clause: A subordinate clause is a secondary clause connected to the main clause with a subordinate conjunction like “because,” “as,” or “while.” A subordinate clause can also be connected to the main clause with coordinating conjunctions like “or,” “but,” or “but.” Without the conjunction, a subordinate clause could be the main clause, but the subordinate conjunction makes it an incomplete thought. For example, in the sentence “He fell because he was tripped,” the subordinate clause is “because he was tripped.”
  3. 3. Adjective clause: An adjective clause, also known as an adverbial clause, is a dependent clause that attaches to the main clause using a relative pronoun like “who,” “whom,” “whose,” “which,” or “that,” or by using a relative adverb such as “when,” “where,” or “why.” For example, in the sentence, “She cried when Brad dumped her,” the adjective clause is “when Brad dumped her.”
  4. 4. Noun clause: A noun clause is a clause that replaces a single noun. For example, “The gold medal goes to the winner,” can become, “The gold medal goes to whoever wins the race.” The noun clause is “whoever wins the race,” as it replaced the noun, “the winner.”

What Is the Difference Between Clause and Phrase?

When you are writing a sentence, a clause is a complete thought that contains a subject and a verb. A phrase is a group of words that modifies the subjects and objects in the sentence to provide extra information, but it is not a complete thought. Subordinate or relative clauses become sentence fragments with the attachment of a conjunction, but aside from the conjunction, they contain a subject and a verb. Clauses within complex sentences may be made up of one or two phrases, but the phrases do not function on their own.

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