Differences Between a Phrase and a Clause. In the realm of grammar and sentence structure, phrases and clauses play distinct roles. They are essential building blocks of sentences, but they serve different functions and have specific characteristics. In this article, we’ll explore the eight key differences between a phrase and a clause, providing examples to illustrate each point.
While both are group of words, a phrase does not contain a subject and a verb but a clause does. Also, a sentence can exist as a single clause, but a single phrase cannot make up a sentence. While phrases add meaning to a sentence, they cannot create a sentence on their own. On the other hand, clauses are so necessary to sentence formation, that removing them may affect the understanding of the sentence.
In any sentence, clauses are the backbone, this is majorly because they contain the subjects and predicates which makes the sentence complete. In the English language, while some clauses cannot stand alone as their own sentence, they must have a subject and verb to be classified as a clause. In any sentence, clauses are the main parts. Without a clause, a sentence just stands as a group of words that have no meaning on their own. In such case, it would be a phrase and not a clause. The reason why it is difficult to differentiate between clauses and phrases is because some clauses cannot stand on their own as a sentence.
The easiest way to identify whether a group of words is a phrase or a clause, is to lookout for both a subject and a verb, if the group of words contain both, it is a clause, however if it contains only one, it is a phrase.
Types of Phrases
Phrases can be used to describe nouns, actions, locations and more. The aim of a phrase is to give information or a very clear idea of what the sentence is trying to convey as a message. Generally, there are several main types of phrases:
a. Noun phrase: This one is self explanatory. Like the name implies, the function of a noun phrase is to act like a noun in a sentence. The noun phrase includes the noun and adjectives to describe the noun. A noun phrase is also known as a noun. As said above, it includes a noun and its modifiers, and its major function is to give more information about a noun. Interestingly, one can also use adjective phrases to describe a noun, for example:
“The beautiful, little flowers are growing in my garden.”
“The small yellow car belongs to my sister”
“I want to see the old horror movie”
b. Verb phrases: Just like noun phrases, verb phrases also contain a verb and its modifiers. Verb phrases can also include helping or linking verbs. Interestingly, one can use adjective phrases often appear with verb phrases.
I have been working all day today
I might stop at the market
Our class will host a holiday party next month
c. Gerund phrases: In the English language, a gerund is an “-ing” verb used as a noun. What this means is that when one uses a gerund phrase, they are basically using a noun phrase with a gerund instead of a noun. Examples
Running around the machine is not safe
I love surfing with pants on
Talking to her colleagues always help Dorothy make quality decisions
d. Infinitive phrases: If you follow till this point, you might have guessed that an infinitive phrase starts with the infinitive, that is the linking verb “to”, for example,
I want to go to the market later
My dream is to get married and live in London
To drive a car, you must first obtain a learner’s permit
One can start a sentence with an infinitive phrase. Also an Infinitive phrase can be used as a sentence predicate. The function Infinitive phrase perform in the English language, is to act as a noun or adjective in a sentence but this depends on how they are used.
e. Prepositional phrases: In the English language, a propositional phrase includes all of the words that follow when describing a noun or pronoun. In other words, when one wants to describe more about the position of a noun or pronoun, they can use a prepositional phrase. For example:
“My mother has always wanted to live near the forests”
“Let’s cool off in the pool”
“I would love another cup of chocolate ice cream”
f. Absolute phrases: It is very easy to mistake an absolute phrase for a clause, this is because they appear to contain a noun and a verb. They are different, and not a clause because the verb contained in it is functioning as a participle and not an action word. Examples of absolute phrases includes
His heart pounding in his chest, Michael banged on the bed
Mr. Jerry picked up the book, already knowing what it said
I watched as my wife drove away, her car chugging down the dirt road.
g. Participle phrases: Participle phrases are similar to gerund phrases because they both use verbs in different ways. While participle phrases begins with a participle, that is a verb used as an adjective and the modifier that follows, a gerund phrase uses the “-ing” as a noun. Examples of participle phrases includes
Having read the material already, Ikenna new the movie would be sad
Sweeping up the sitting room, I noticed something red under the table
h. Apposite phrases: Appositives is one word used to clarify or explain what a noun is talking about. Appositive phrases like the appositives work the same way. The only difference is that they use more than one word to explain what the noun is talking about, for examples:
“My father, a huge comic fan, attended the reading last night”
“I looked for Dickie, my big yellow dog, after he went missing”
“Emma’s dish, a huge Egusi soup, looks delicious”
Types of clauses
a. Independent clauses: An independent clause in grammar, is a complete sentence, a complete thought, and makes sense on its own. An independent clause can also be called a main clause. This is because it makes up the main part of the sentence. It is important to note that one can combine two independent clauses to form a compound sentence. Also, one can add a dependent clause to the independent clause to make a complex sentence. Some examples of independent clauses includes:
“I love rice and beans”
“I would love a trip to Nigeria”
“My brother owns a swimming pool”
b. Dependent clauses: Dependent clauses can also be called subordinate clauses. It is important to note that even though dependent clauses have subjects and verbs, they do not express a complete thought. Dependent clauses need to connect with an independent clause that has a coordinating conjunction or subordinating conjunction. Dependent clauses are the reason why phrases and clauses get all mixed up. Dependent clauses depend on the independent clause in order to make sense. There are various types of dependent clauses. They are:
Relative clauses which begin with relative pronouns like who, whom, which, whose, that, examples:
“He knew instantly whose voice had called out to him”
Noun clauses which basically act like nouns within sentences. The difference between noun clauses and noun phrases, is that the noun clause includes a subject and a verb, for example;
“She was highly moved by what she had seen”
Adjectival clauses basically act like adjectives and their function is that they describe a noun using the subject and verb, for example:
“The dress you gave me does not fit perfectly”
Adverbial clause modifies the verb in a sentence and as the name implies, it acts like an adverb. Adverbial clauses always start with a subordinating conjunction, for example, I walk my dog until she gets tired.
8 Major difference between Phrase and Clause
1. A phrase is defined as a collection of two or more words that are connected and form a single unit. On the other hand, the clause can also be a portion of a sentence that has a subject (noun phrase) that is actively engaged in an action (finite verb form).
2. The real distinction between a “phrase” and a “clause” is that, although a “clause” has a subject and a predicate, a “phrase” only has one of the two. A phrase often has a noun but no verb. The phrase lacks a predicate.
3. Even though the phrases are integrated into clauses, it is crucial to remember that a phrase cannot stand alone as a whole sentence since it lacks sufficient information. Each word in “Phrase” has a meaning, yet it doesn’t make sense as a whole sentence.
4. Contrarily, a Clause has a verb with a predicate as well as a subject. It is a collection of words used to construct a sentence. Phrases can be used in clauses as well. If the clause does not contain a subject-verb combination, it falls under the heading of phrases.
5. The phrase serves as both the conceptual framework and a glossary of terminology. In other words, the phrase makes a passing reference to a short statement or slang term. It’s customary to use phrases in a figurative sense.
The fact that a phrase is a subset of a genre is noteworthy. There are times when a word’s phrase is used as a verb.
6. In the domain of law, the word phrase can refer to any single assertion, just as it might in music when describing a group of notes that together form a discrete unit within a larger portion.
7. Independent clauses are those that can stand on their own and represent a concept or meaning. However, if the clause is a dependent one, it can never stand alone. It then requires the addition of something else.
8. Just as a shoebox cannot fit inside of a shoe, a phrase may fit inside of a clause but a clause may not fit inside of a phrase.
It is also easy to confuse the meaning of a sentence. Irrespective of the facts that phrases, clauses and sentences all work together to create meaning, identifying each individual component may be difficult. A sentence contains a clause, while a clause contains a phrase. It goes in this order:
Phrase — clause — sentence, for example;
The big clock — the big clock chimed — the big clock chimed when the hand struck midnight. A sentence, no matter how simple, compound, complex or compound-complex is a complete thought that has been punctuated. A sentence should start with a capital letter and end with a punctuation. The punctuation can either be a full stop, exclamation mark, question mark or ellipses etc. In the English language, there are four main types of sentences, which each contain a varying number of clauses and phrases. They are: simple, compound, complex and compound-complex sentences.
Also note that mastering how to know if it is a phrase or a clause takes practice. The best way to learn this, is to practice regularly, looking at groups of words and slowly analyzing the different parts, so as to find out whether it is a phrase or a clause. Turning phrases into clauses is the first step for making a full sentence.