What Are Clauses and Phrases?

Clauses and phrases are essential elements in constructing sentences. The most basic sentence consists of a single (independent) clause. More complex sentences may contain multiple clauses, including clauses contained within clauses. Clauses may be independent or dependent.

● Independent clauses are those that could stand as a sentence by themselves, although they may be used in connection with other clauses in a longer sentence. Independent clauses can be joined together with a conjunction.

● Dependent clauses are those that would be awkward or nonsense if used alone. They must be used with an independent clause to form a complete sentence. A subordinate conjunction is frequently used to introduce a dependent clause.

Clauses can take on different roles in a sentence. A noun clause fulfills functions identical to a noun in a sentence. An adjective clause functions like an adjective does and modifies a noun or pronoun. An adverb clause acts as an adverb.

Clauses can also be essential or non-essential. An essential clause offers additional information. A non-essential clause interrupts sentence flow with supplementary information. This type of clause is offset with commas and can be converted into a separate sentence.

Clauses are often contrasted with phrases. In everyday speech, a phrase may refer to any group of words. Phrases are multiple words that function like single words in sentences.

Phrases can take on the characteristics of nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs. There are several types of phrases used in English. They are named after the most important words used in that phrase.

● Noun phrases consist of a noun and all of its modifiers, which can include other phrases.

◊ Appositive phrases rename another noun, not technically modifying it.

◊ Gerund phrases are just noun phrases containing gerund.

◊ Infinitive phrases are noun phrases that begin with an infinitive. This type of phrase can also function as an adjective or an adverb.

● Verb phrases are composed of verbs and associated auxiliary words. Adverbs can precede or follow a verb phrase.

● Adjective phrases can either refer to a group of adjectives or any phrase that acts as adjective.

● Adverb phrases are a group of adverbs or any phrase that acts like adverb.

● Participial phrases are a group of words beginning with participles. A participial phrase can function like an adjective or adverb, though they can replace nouns.

● Prepositional phrases start with a preposition and ends with nouns or pronouns. The noun is the object of the preposition and the prepositional phrase acts as an adjective or adverb.

● Absolute phrases have subjects and modify the entire sentence, not one noun. Almost a clause, the absolute phrase can include every sentence element except a finite verb.

Learning what clauses and phrases look like may help to avoid errors. Understanding how they are used can build stronger sentences.