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Phrase vs. Clause – A Complete Guide

Phrase vs. Clause – A Complete Guide

Phrases and clauses are the two most confusing elements of English grammar. The basic concept of these two isn't very difficult. But for some reason, students always keep getting confused between the two. But after reading this blog, you'll have no more doubts.

This post covers both the concepts individually in detail and then discusses the key differences between the two. So, let's get started.

Phrase – Definition, Types, and Examples

A phrase is a short set of words conveying a concept but not a complete sentence. Every day, you employ phrases in your writing and while speaking. There are various types of phrases, some of which have a technical purpose in your writing and others which provide an illustrative one. Whatever role a phrase plays, it achieves one basic goal: it enriches your sentences by providing context, detail, and clarity.

It's important to be aware that certain phrases may not be suitable for your writing. Using common phrases can sometimes make you seem uncertain and obscure your message. It's crucial to know which phrases to steer clear of to ensure their use does not undermine your work.

A grammatical phrase is a group of words that function as a unit. Grammatical phrases enrich sentences by providing information about one or more of the parts of speech in use.

A grammatical phrase can clarify any section of speech. The crucial point here is that a phrase only provides some detail but it lacks the structure to be a clause on its own.

Sentences do not need to contain phrases in order to be grammatically correct. Sometimes a sentence is composed entirely of individual words, such as:

Xavier Danced Yesterday.

It's a brief, straightforward sentence that paints a clear yet stark picture. Combining some of those words into phrases may give you a far more thorough picture of how Sheila spent her time the day before. For instance, you could write:

This sentence is short and simple but conveys a clear, stark image. If you group some of the words together, you can create phrases that provide a more detailed account of Xavier’s activities from the previous day. For example, you could say:

  • Xavier danced in the school fest yesterday.
  • Xavier danced with Elena yesterday.

Grammatical phrases are of several types, and you'll commonly see two or more in the same sentence. Each type is named by the part of speech or role it plays in a sentence that it modifies. The same is discussed below.

Types of Phrases

1. Adjective Phrase

An adjective phrase is a phrase that describes or adds to the meaning of an adjective. It includes an adjective as well as any terms that modify the adjective. The following are some examples of adjective phrases within sentences, with the adjective phrases highlighted:

  • The color of the dress was way too bright.
  • John is smarter than his brothers.

2. Adverb Phrase

An adverbial phrase is a phrase that acts as an adverb in a sentence. Adverbs change the meaning of verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Adverbial phrases in use look like this:

  • He goes to the church every week.
  • The carpenter hit the nail with a hammer.

3. Noun Phrase

A noun phrase adds information or explanation to a noun. Noun phrases include the following:

  • The big, warm coatis worth its price.
  • That new blue bikebelongs to my brother.

 4. Verb Phrase

Verb phrases are composed of a verb and any linking verbs or modifiers. A verb phrase, like an adverbial phrase, serves as a verb in the sentence in which it is used. Verb phrases include the following:

  • I am writing an essay.
  • My friend has appearedon screen as an actor.

5. Prepositional Phrase

Prepositional phrases are made up of a preposition and its object. They can, but do not have to, include modifiers. Prepositional phrases include the following:

  • After the race, she was out of breath.
  • The patient’s life is at risk.

6. Gerund Phrase

A gerund phrase is a phrase that contains a gerund, which is a noun formed by adding to a verb, as well as its modifiers. A gerund phrase functions as a noun within a sentence. It can be difficult to understand, so remember what a noun is: a person, place, thing, or concept. Gerunds frequently come into the category of "thing." Gerund phrases include the following:

  • Competitive horseback ridingis one of my favorite hobbies.
  • All the neighbors are looking forward to barbecuing on Sunday.

7. Infinitive Phrase

Can you identify an infinitive phrase? Yes, it's a phrase composed of an infinitive (the most fundamental form of a verb, commonly followed by "to") and the words that clarify it. Here are some instances of infinitive phrases within sentences:

  • We have time to walk to the circus show.
  • I have always wanted to get a fashion design degree.

8. Participle Phrase

Participles are modified verbs that function as adjectives. Participle phrases are made up of participles and their modifiers, such as:

  • The fish that swam away from its schoolgot caught in the fishnet.
  • Fond of eating sweets, Alia bought five pastries.

9. Appositive Phrase

An appositive phrase contains both an appositive and the noun (or pronoun) it describes. Appositives are short descriptions that define a noun and give detail to it.

Here are some appositive phrase examples:

  • Fairfield, a town in New Jersey, is home to 7,500 people.
  • The person competing was Jacqueline, a winning prizefighter.

This was all about phrases. Let us now examine a clause.

Clause – Definition, Types, and Examples

A clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb that are related. This link is critical; rather than being a random arrangement of words, a clause conveys information about what that subject is or is doing. A clause can often serve as a separate sentence because it expresses an action or a state of being.

A sentence might have a single clause or numerous clauses. A clause's only distinguishing feature is that it must have a linked subject and verb. Clauses have a range of functions in English homework, so there are different ways to structure and combine them.

Although you use clauses in your speech and writing on a daily basis, it is easy to ignore the complexities of clauses in English. Continue reading to understand how clauses are classified, the roles clauses play in sentences, how to mix clauses to express yourself, and the distinction between independent and dependent clauses.

How Do Clauses work in English?

In English, clauses can have three functions: they can be adverbs, adjectives, or nouns. Let us have a look at them one by one.

Noun Clause

For example –

  • I understood everything that the teacher said.

In the above sentence, the highlighted portion can be changed with the teacher's explanation, and still, the meaning will be the same.

  • I understood the teacher's explanation.

Adverbial Clause

A noun clause is a clause that takes on the role of a noun, and an adverbial clause is a clause that takes on the role of an adverb.

For example –

I completed the homework without any difficulties.

Let's change the highlighted portion in the above sentence to 'easily.' Now it is –

I completed the homework easily.

Therefore 'without any difficulties' can swap the adverb 'easily' perfectly, making it an adverbial clause.

Adjective Clause

By now, you must have guessed what an adjective clause is. But for clarity, here's a definition – An adjective clause acts as an adjective in its sentence.

In its sentence, an adjective clause functions as an adjective. Here are some instances with adjectives switched in to demonstrate:

For example –

  • My friend who rides a motorcyclesaid it’s a great weekend to ride.
  • My motorcyclist friendsaid it’s a great weekend to ride.

So which is the adjective clause here?

‘My friend who rides a motorcycle’ is the answer.

Types of Clauses 

1. Independent Clause

A clause that may stand alone as a sentence is known as an independent clause. Consider the following examples:

  • The children ate tiffin.
  • His bike is green.

Independent clauses, as you can see, are neither long nor complex sentences. They can surely be used in complicated statements, yet they are classified as simple sentences by definition.

2. Dependent Clause

A dependent clause, on the other hand, is not a complete sentence. Subordinate clauses are another name for dependent clauses. As the name says, these clauses rely on independent clauses to explain ideas clearly. Here are some dependent clause examples:

  • When he grows up
  • The cat near the car

To make these dependent clauses into complete sentences, combine them with independent clauses:

  • He plans to shift abroad when he grows up.
  • The cat near the car was scared of the barking dog.

In the first sentence, the dependent clause ‘When he grows up’ is combined with ‘He plans to shift abroad’. This is again an independent clause.

In the second sentence,‘The cat near the car’is combined with‘being scared of the barking dog. In this case, both the clauses are dependent on one another.

Sentences are generally formed with different combinations of dependent and independent clauses. Let's look into the details of the same in the next section.

How to Combine Clauses?

You must join clauses when writing a sentence with more than one independent clause. At least one independent clause appears in each sentence you compose. Your sentence's other clauses dictate how you can join them with your independent clause.

For example –

A compound sentence is one that contains two or more independent clauses. A comma followed by a coordinating conjunction, a semicolon, or a colon joins the clauses in a compound sentence. Coordination refers to this type of combination.

I love eating chocolates, but I know it's bad for my teeth.

When all of your clauses are independent, you can join them together with a coordinating conjunction. The coordinating conjunctions in English are:

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Yet
  • So

A subordinating conjunction is required when combining a dependent and independent clauses. There are many more subordinating conjunctions than coordinating conjunctions, and they can be classified based on their purpose.

A complicated sentence is one that contains an independent clause and one or more dependent clauses, whereas a compound-complex sentence contains two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. The subordinating conjunction marks the beginning of the dependent clause in either of these statements. Here are a couple of such examples:

  • While we slept, he completed his homework.
  • The fun can begin now that the clown is here.

As you can see in these examples, when the dependent clause comes first, it needs to be followed by a comma.

The use of subordinating conjunctions isn't the only way to insert a dependent clause into a sentence. Relative pronouns or relative adverbs can also be used to begin dependent clauses.

That, whose, whom, who, and which are examples of relative pronouns. Consider how these dependent clauses begin with relative pronouns function in sentences:

The guy who shouted all night made it impossible to fall asleep.

Relative adverbs include where, when, how, and why. Here are a few relative adverb-led dependent clauses at work:

The traffic jam is the reason why we were late.

With this, the basic idea of phrases and clauses comes to an end. Now let's see the difference between the two.

The Differences between Phrases and Clauses

First, have a look at the table below and then the key points explained below –





Does not contain a subject and a verb

Contains a subject and a verb


Functions as a single part of speech

Functions as a complete sentence or sentence part


Lacks the ability to express a complete thought

Expresses a complete thought or idea


It can be categorized into different types (noun, verb, adjective, adverbial, prepositional, etc.)

Can be independent or dependent


Examples: "in the morning," "on the table."

Examples: "She runs," "He is reading a book."


It cannot stand alone as a sentence.

Can stand alone as a sentence (independent clause) or depends on another clause (dependent clause)


It does not have a subject or a verb

It has a subject and a verb


Provides additional information within a sentence

Conveys a complete thought or idea


Can modify a noun, verb, or another part of speech

Can function as a subject, object, or complement


Examples: "running in the park," "with a smile."

Examples: "I ate an apple," "They are playing."

 Key Points of Differences between Phrases and Clauses

  1. A phrase is a group of words that lacks a subject and a verb, whereas a clause has both.
  2. A phrase is a single portion of speech that cannot communicate an entire notion, whereas a clause can be a complete sentence or part of a sentence.
  3. Phrases are classified into noun, verb, adjective, adverbial, and prepositional phrases. Clauses, on the other hand, might be autonomous (stand-alone) or subordinate (dependent).
  4. Phrases add information to sentences and can modify a noun, verb, or another part of speech. Clauses express entire concepts or ideas and might operate inside a phrase as subjects, objects, or complements.
  5. Phrases like "in the morning" or "on the table" cannot be used as sentences on their own. Clauses like "She runs" or "He is reading a book" can stand on their own as independent sentences or rely on another clause as dependent clauses.
  6. Phrases lack both a subject and a verb, whereas sentences include both.
  7. Phrases are used to give descriptive or contextual information to a sentence. Clauses express entire ideas or concepts, contributing to a sentence's overall meaning and structure.
  8. Phrases can be used to modify nouns, verbs, or other components of speech, increasing the sentence's specificity or depth. Clauses can serve as subjects, objects, or complements and they are necessary components in the construction of meaningful sentences.
  9. Examples of phrases include "running in the park" and "with a smile," whereas clauses include "I ate an apple" and "They are playing."
  10. Phrases are often used to modify sentences or add detail, whereas clauses play a larger role in forming whole sentences and conveying complete thoughts.

Next time, whenever you are given worksheets on phrases and clauses, refer to this blog. You will face no more hurdles.

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