What Are Phrases and Clauses? with Examples

Many grammar students and writers wonder what are phrases and clauses? Our guide with examples will help you understand these concepts.

In the English language, phrases and clauses are groups of words that perform specific functions with the sentence. Understanding how to use different types of phrases and clauses as you write will help you make your writing more interesting and engaging.

Here is a closer look at the types of clauses and phrases that can come up in your writing. As you ask, “what is phrases and clauses,” look at these examples to see some for yourself.

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Defining Phrases and Clauses

What are phrases and clauses with examples

To understand phrases and clauses, you must first identify them. Though they are similar, they are not the same. Here is a closer look at what each one means, along with examples of different types of phrases and clauses. 

What is a Phrase?

A phrase is a related group of words that work together as a unit, but that does not have a subject or verb. There are several types of phrases, including:

  • Noun phrase (John and Tom)
  • Verb phrase (ran quickly)
  • Prepositional phrase (to the kitchen)
  • Gerund phrase (finding a boyfriend)
  • Participial phrase (walking along the shore)

When you put a group of phrases together to form a complete thought you have a simple sentence. Some of these examples of phrases can combine to say:

  • John and Tom ran quickly to the kitchen.

How are Phrases Used?

Phrases act as particular parts of speech in the sentence. For example, in the sentence:

  • My best friend lives next door.

The phrase “best friend” serves as the subject of the sentence. Similarly, if you were to say:

  • The boy needing help with his shoes sat on the floor and cried.

In this sentence, the phrase “needing help” acts as an adjective. 

More Examples of Phrases

Examples of phrases
The full phrase functions as different parts of speech in a sentence

Here are some examples of phrases:

  • In the air
  • She and her sister
  • Carefully handed
  • Removing his coat
  • Having been
  • Outside the fence

None of these examples have a subject and verb, and none of them express a complete thought. The full phrase functions as different parts of speech in a sentence, depending on how they are positioned.

What Is a Clause?

A clause is a phrase that has a subject and a verb, and it often contains modifiers for those parts of speech. Clauses can be independent, which means they have a complete thought and can stand alone, or dependent, which means they need to have other parts of a sentence to create a complete thought.

How Are Clauses Used?

Like phrases, clauses can perform a particular action in a sentence, like functioning as a noun, adjective or adverb. Here are some examples:

  • My friend, who lives in the next town, got a job at the ice cream shop. (This is an adjective clause describing the friend.)
  • She cannot remember what she ate for dinner last night. (This is a noun clause that serves as the direct object in the sentence).
  • He lost a lot of weight after he stopped drinking soda. (This is an adverbial clause describing when he lost weight.)

Examples of Dependent Clauses 

A dependent clause, also called a subordinate clause, has a subject and verb but does not finish a thought. They usually start with a subordinating conjunction, like because, since or when. Some examples include:

  • When I get home
  • Since he has been waiting so long
  • Because we missed our flight

None of these form a complete thought, and they must have a longer sentence to make sense.

Examples of Independent Clauses

Independent clauses can be part of a larger complex sentence, but they can also stand alone on their own as a complete sentence. Some examples include:

  • The cat has nine lives.
  • Put it on the stove.
  • The door is open.

Even though these are short, they have an entire thought and do not need additional words to make a sentence. 

Punctuation for Phrases and Clauses

Clauses and phrases sometimes need to be set apart with commas. When a dependent clause starts a sentence, it is best to end it with a comma, but not when it ends the sentence. For instance:

  • When you go to the store, can you please get some milk? 
  • Can you please get some milk when you go to the store?

If the dependent clause is not necessary to have the sentence make sense, it needs commas. However, if the dependent clause, especially an adjective clause, is necessary to make sense, leave the comma off.

  • My dad, who preferred sports to art, was ready to leave after the long recital. (In this sentence, the idea would make sense without the clause)
  • Teddy Roosevelt once said, “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” (In this sentence, the quote would not mean anything without the clauses.)

A Final Word on What Is Phrases and Clauses with Examples

Phrases and clauses can sometimes trip up grammar students and writers because they work as specific parts of speech while containing more than one word. When you can identify these well, you will be able to use the English language more effectively.

Phrases do not have a subject and a verb, while clauses do. Phrases and dependent clauses do not have a complete thought, while independent clauses do.

When used well, all of these groups of words make up sentences that convey thoughts to readers.

FAQs on What Is Phrases and Clauses with Examples

What is the difference between a phrase and a clause?

A phrase does not have a subject and verb, but a clause does. Both grammar terms refer to groups of words that function as a particular part of speech in a sentence. 

Can phrases and clauses stand alone?

Phrases cannot stand alone as their own sentences, and neither can dependent clauses. However, some clauses, independent clauses, can stand alone.

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Author

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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