6) Phrases and Clauses

Phrases and Clauses

Now that we have looked at subjects, predicates and objects, let’s look at putting them together into first phrases, then clauses.

1) Phrases

There will be a more extensive section on phrases at the end, here, but it is worth getting introduced now, because they will show up in every word class we go through.

A phrase is two or more words which does not have a subject-verb relationship, and cannot form a complete thought. Phrases work within clauses, or complete sentences, having a particular function. Let’s look at some examples:

The team were ready to play.

‘The team’ is a phrase, because it is more than one word working together for a similar function, but it doesn’t have both a subject and a verb combining together into a subject-verb relationship. It is, in its entirety, a subject, but there is no verb, and, therefore, no predicate to link to it. The function these two words are playing together is that of a noun. We discuss these later, but, briefly, a noun names a person, animal, place, thing, quality, state or action. ‘The’ + ‘team’ together name a group of people working together.

The difficult thing about phrases is that they are made up of different word classes which together combine to create one word class. So, for example, ‘the team’ is made up of the adjective ‘the’ and the noun ‘team’; however, together, they work as a noun phrase. This example should be clearer once we cover adjectives. Very briefly, adjectives are words which modify nouns, and ‘the’ is an adjective type known as the ‘definite article’. In this example, ‘the’ is modifying the noun ‘team’ by pointing out it is a particular team, as opposed to saying something like ‘a team’, which is a more general statement.

We will see examples of phrases in every word class, so hopefully this concept will becomes clearer with time. For now, the important thing to remember is that a phrase is a group of words with no subject-verb relationship and which can be made up of more than one word class.

1.1 Questions

1) What is a phrase?

2) Clauses

There will be a more extensive section on clauses at the end, here. However, let’s take a short look now.

A clause is a group of two or more words which work together and has a subject and a verb combining to form a subject-verb relationship. There are two types of clauses:

2.1 Main / independent clause

A main clause is a group of two or more words which contains a subject and a verb combining to form a subject-verb relationship, and which can stand alone as a complete thought, or sentence. For example:

I love Chinese food.

The subject is ‘I’, the verb is ‘love’ and it stands alone as a statement. In the above example, the clause is also a simple sentence. However, when there are two, or more, clauses, they can be seen as separate main clauses. For example:

I love Chinese food, and I am very hungry now.

Here we have two main clauses, linked together by ‘and’:

i) ‘I love Chinese food’ (subject: ‘I’, verb: ‘love’)

ii) ‘I am very hungry now’ (subject: ‘I’, verb: ‘hungry’)

Together, they make up a compound sentence. We will look at simple, complex and compound sentences soon, just after we have discussed the second type of clause.

2.2 Subordinate / dependent clause

A subordinate clause is a group of two or more words which has a subject and a verb combining to form a subject-verb relationship, but which isn’t able to express a complete thought. This means that a subordinate clause will need a main clause to be able to have meaning. For example:

John passed the exam with flying colours, although he forgot everything a week later.

Here, the subordinate clause ‘although he forgot everything a week later’ needs the main clause ‘John passed the exam with flying colours’ to make a complete thought. The subordinate clause has a subject ‘he’ and its verb ‘forgot’; however, it doesn’t work as a complete thought alone. So we can see that:

although he forgot everything a week later

is a subordinate clause because, while it has a subject and verb, it doesn’t stand as a complete thought alone.

Now, once we add the main clause ‘John passed the exam with flying colours’ – which does make sense alone – we get a complete thought:

John passed the exam with flying colours, although he forgot everything a week later.

2.3 Questions

1) What is a clause?

2) What are the different types of clauses?

Next, let’s look at how phrases and clauses work together to create different types of sentences.

NEXT: 7) Sentences

Posted in English Grammar