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The Difference Between a Phrase and a Clause

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This tutorial is going to show you the basic difference between a phrase and a clause. You will learn how to quickly tell whether a group of words is a phrase or a clause.

Here are the pointers to a phrase in a sentence.

1. Two helpful definitions of a phrase could be your starting point.

  •       A group of words which has no finite VERB, no SUBJECT, and no PREDICATE
  •    A group of words of which one is the HEAD (the most important word) with the others qualifying it (the head).

2. A phrase may be represented as:

[Qualifier / modifier/ determiner] + HEADWORD + [Qualifier / modifier].

The part of speech of the HEADWORD gives the phrase its distinctive name

Example: The HEADWORD is in bold in each sentence below.

  •  Her performance was simply fantastic = adjectival phrase
  •  Your explanation is terrible. = noun phrase
  •   He spoke very loudly. = adverbial phrase.

How to easily spot a  clause in a sentence.

1.      Phrases expand into clauses

2.      A clause is made up of a verb and at least one of the following: Subject, Verb, Object, Complement, Adverb (SVOCA)

3.      There are two types of clause

a) INDEPENDENT CLAUSE: It has a finite verb and can stand on its own. It is also called the MAIN CLAUSE.


(a)   You want to see me.

(b)   Come to my house.

b) DEPENDENT CLAUSE: It depends on the main clause to make complete sense


If you want to see me come to my farm.

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4. SUBORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS: Normally, dependent or subordinate clauses are introduced by certain words known as Subordinating conjunctions. Examples include which, who, what, that, though, if, so, when, since, as, why, unless, because, whether.

How to easily spot a clause (dependent/subordinate clause) in a sentence.

1.      It sounds much more like a sentence as compared to a phrase

2.      In fact, a complete sentence can be lifted out of most clauses.


The thieves found out that their money had been stolen.

Their money had been stolen is a complete sentence which is present within the clause, THAT THEIR MONEY HAD BEEN STOLEN.

3.      A clause usually begins with a subordinating conjunction.


a.      Tell me why you hate us so much.

b.      We don’t like him because he is a bully.

I shall be going into greater detail about the specific characteristics of the various types of phrases and clauses in another post.

Thank you.

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DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links.

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