Difference Between the usage of Phrases and Clauses in a sentence


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Both clauses and phrases are building blocks of sentences. Phrases are a group of words which are a part of speech but cannot stand alone as sentences themselves. The words in a phrase act together so that the phrase itself functions as a single part of speech.

Phrases can function as nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs. Once you understand how the different and unique type of phrases function then you can avoid misplacing them or leave them dangling in sentences.

In contrast to phrases, Clauses are a group of words which have a subject and a predicate. Single and independent clauses express a complete thought and can be used independently as sentences as well. Also there are subordinate clauses which can act as part of speech but depend on the rest of the sentence to express a complete thought.

A sentence is considered complete when it contains a subject which can be a noun or a pronoun and a predicate which can be a verb or verb phrase.

Difference Between the usage of Phrases and Clauses in a sentence

There are 4 basic types of sentences which use phrases and clauses in varying degree of complexity and these are:

Simple, Compound, Complex and Complex-Compound.

What is a phrase?

When words are grouped together but don’t have a subject or a verb then they are called phrases.

As phrases have nether verb or a subject thus they cannot form a predicate, thus this structure must contain a verb and tells you something about what the subject is doing.

You can have short phrases and very long phrases as well.

For example: “After Lunch” or “Waiting for the hailstorm to stop”.

Also it is important to note that phrases cannot be used on their own. You can only use them as part of a sentence where they are actually used as part of speech.

What is a clause?

Clauses are a group of words which have both subjects and predicates. Clauses are different from phrases as they can sometimes act as complete sentences and this type of clauses are known as independent clauses.

Although this is true to a large extent but all clauses cannot be used as complete sentences and thus these are known as subordinate clauses and they need to be used with an independent clause to complete a meaningful sentence.

An example of a subordinate clause is: “When the thief broke into the bank”

And an example of an independent clause is: “The lion roared at him”

As we can see here the independent clause can be used on its own to complete a sentence the subordinate clause can’t be used like this. For the subordinate clause to be correct we should pair it with a main clause.

An example of this is: “When the man broke into the building, the dog barked at him”.

What is a sentence?

A proper and complete sentence has a subject and a predicate. It can be composed of one or more clauses.

As long as there are a subject and a predicate, a group of words can form a sentence no matter how long or short

For example:  “You ate sushi.”

This is a very simple sentence where ‘You’ are the subject and ‘Sushi’ is the predicate.

There are more complex sentences as well which have multiple clauses or phrases which add the additional information about what is being described.

Also clauses may be combined using conjunctions like “but”, “or” and “and”.

An example would be “He went to the amusement park but he didn’t enjoy the rides.” 

In this example there are two independent clauses, “He went to the amusement park” and “He didn’t enjoy the rides” and the conjunction here is “But”.

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