ENG2: Clause, phrase and sentence

This unit is about Clause, phrase and sentence, the differences between the three and how they are applied in English grammar.

Phrases, Clauses and Sentences are the most important structural units of language. They provide structure and meaning to almost all the languages. The phrases and clauses provide a sense to a sentence. Here we will discuss this and learn about the constituents of a sentence structure with the help of interesting example sentence for each.

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The basic unit of English grammar is the clause:

[An unlucky student almost lost a 17th century violin worth almost £200,000]

[when he left it in the waiting room of a London station.]

[William Brown inherited the 1698 Stradivarius violin from his mother]

[and had just had it valued by a London dealer at £180,000.]

Clauses are made up of phrases:

[An unlucky student] + [almost lost] + [a 17th century violin worth almost £200,000]

[when] + [he] + [left] + [it] + [in the waiting room of a London station.]

[William Brown] + [inherited] + [the 1698 Stradivarius violin] + [from his mother]

[and] [had just had it valued] + [by a London dealer] + [at £180,000.]

What is a clause?

Clauses are groups of words that have both subjects and predicates. Unlike phrases, a clause can sometimes act as a sentence – this type of clause is called an independent clause. This isn’t always the case, and some clauses can’t be used on their own – these are called subordinate clauses, and need to be used with an independent clause to complete their meaning.

An example of a subordinate clause is “When the man broke into the house”

An example of an independent clause is “the dog barked at him”

While the independent clause could be used by itself as a complete sentence, the subordinate clause could not. For it to be correct, it would need to be paired with another clause: “When the man broke into the house, the dog barked at him.”

  • Main or Independent Clause: The main clause is that part of a sentence that not only contains the subject and the predicate but also makes perfect sense if we take it out of the sentence. in other words we can say that this clause does not need a context to make sense. For example, China is growing at a very fast rate and this has surprised many economists. The clauses in bold are independent clauses.
  • Subordinate or Dependent Clause: A subordinate or a dependent clause must also contain the subject and the predicate. The only condition is that these kinds of clauses won’t make proper sense without another clause. The dependent clause depends on the main clause for deriving a proper meaning. Let us see some examples: The country is going from bad to worse. Asif has a dog who can stand on two legs. That is the umbrella which I bought online. Iran has a very beautiful culture which is also one of the oldest cultures in the world. The words in bold are the subordinate clauses.

All clauses in English have at least two parts: a noun phrase and a verb phrase:

Noun phrase (subject)Verb phrase
The children
All the people in the bus
were watching

But most clauses have more than two parts:


Noun phrase (subject)Verb phrase
The children
All of the girls
This soup
Mary and the family
are learning
were driving
a new bicycle
to Madrid
the flowers
in a vase

The first noun phrase is the subject of the sentence:

The children laughed.
John wanted a new bicycle.
All the girls are learning English.
She put the flowers in the vase.

English clauses always have a subject:

His father has just retired. Was a teacherHe was a teacher.
I’m waiting for my wife. Is lateShe is late.

… except for the imperative which is used to give orders:

Go away.

… and for “soft imperatives” like invitations and requests:

Please come to dinner tomorrow.
Play it again please.

If we have no other subject we use “there” or “it” as subject. We call this a ‘dummy subject’:

There were twenty people at the meeting..
There will be an eclipse of the moon tonight.

It’s a lovely day.
It’s nearly one o’clock.
I have toothache. It hurts a lot

What is a sentence?

A complete sentence has a subject and predicate, and can often be composed of more than one clause. As long as it has a subject and a predicate, a group of words can form a sentence, no matter how short.

E.g. “You ate fish.”Image result for Clause, phrase and sentence

More complex sentences can combine multiple clauses or phrases to add additional information about what is described. Clauses may be combined using conjunctions – such as “and”, “but” and “or”.

E.g. “He went out to dinner but didn’t enjoy the meal.”

This example is composed of two independent clauses, “he went out to dinner” and “he didn’t enjoy the meal”, combined with a conjunction- “but”.

We can join two or more clauses together to make sentences.

An unlucky student almost lost a 17th century violin worth almost £200,000 when he left it in the waiting room of a London station.

William Brown inherited the 1698 Stradivarius violin from his mother and had just had it valued by a London dealer at £180,000.

  • clause is a group of words containing a subject and verb. An independent clause is a simple sentence. It can stand on its own.

She is hungry.
I am feeling well today.

  • dependent clause cannot stand on its own. It needs an independent clause to complete a sentence. Dependent clauses often begin with such words as although, since, if, when, and because.

Although she is hungry …
Whoever is hungry …
Because I am feeling well …

Although she is hungry,she will give him some of her food.
Whatever they decide,I will agree to.

What is a phrase?

Words can be grouped together, but without a subject or a verb. This is called a phrase.

Because a phrase has neither subject nor verb, it can’t form a ‘predicate’. This is a structure that must contain a verb, and it tells you something about what the subject is doing.

Phrases can be very short – or quite long. Two examples of phrases are:

“After dinner”

“Waiting for the rain to stop”.

Phrases can’t be used alone, but you can use them as part of a sentence, where they are used as parts of speech.

  • phrase is a group of words without a subject-verb component, used as a single part of speech.

Best friend (this phrase acts as a noun)
Needing help (this phrase acts as an adjective; see Adjectives and Adverbs)
With the blue shirt (this prepositional phrase acts as an adjective; see Prepositions)
For twenty days (this prepositional phrase acts as an adverb)

Noun Phrases

Often a noun phrase is just a noun or a pronoun:

People like to have money.
I am tired.
It is getting late.

or a determiner and noun …:

Our friends have bought a house in the village.
Those houses are very expensive.

… perhaps with an adjective:Image result for Clause, phrase and sentence

Our closest friends have just bought a new house in the village.

Sometimes the noun phrase begins with a quantifier:

All those children go to school here.
Both of my younger brothers are married
Some people spend a lot of money.


Quantifiers come before determiners, but numbers come after determiners:

My four children go to school here. (All my children go to school here.)
Those two suitcases are mine. (Both those suitcases are mine)

So the noun phrase is built up in this way:

Noun: peoplemoney 
Determiner + noun: the villagea houseour friendsthose houses
Quantifier + noun: some peoplea lot of money
Determiner + adjective + noun: our closest friendsa new house.
Quantifier + determiner + noun: all those children;
Quantifier + determiner + adjective + noun: both of my younger brothers

The noun phrase can be quite complicated:

a loaf of nice fresh brown bread
the eight-year-old boy who attempted to rob a sweet shop with a pistol
that attractive young woman in the blue dress sitting over there in the corner

  • Prepositional Phrase: This group of words begin with a preposition. The preposition precedes a noun or a pronoun or something which acts as a noun or a pronoun. Let us see some examples. Eid is a wonderful occasion. She was lost at sea. I am writing this essay for the entire class. The entire prepositional phrase acts as an adverb or an adjective most of the times.
  • Verb Phrase: This phrase will contain a main verb and one or more helping verb. These two will have a link that connects them together. This phrase will define the various times of the action in a sentence. For example, The car is moving in a circle. Will he be eating the entire buffet? How are you doing? These are some of the common examples and the structure is auxiliary/modal verb + auxiliary verb + auxiliary verb + main verb (as in the sentence above).
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