English sentences are composed of clauses and phrases. Understanding how these two units of information work and how to tell the difference between them is really important because they’re both essential elements of clear sentences.
A phrase is a small series of words that conveys some meaning and makes up one part of a sentence. Phrases don’t have to have subjects and verbs, and they don’t need to express a full thought.
Instead, a phrase is just a little chunk of meaning. The most common kind of phrase is a prepositional phrase.
EXAMPLE"In the morning," and "Without knowing why" are both prepositional phrases.
See how each of those phrases is just one little piece of information that sets up what is to come in the rest of the sentence? Prepositional phrases are just one of the many types of phrases you can use.
Often, phrases act like parts of speech and can offer additional information to a complete sentence.
EXAMPLEIn the sentence "For as long as I can remember, I've wanted a Great Dane, one of the largest dog breeds," notice how the underlined phrases add details that help explain more about the subject and the verb.
Clauses, on the other hand, contain more information. A clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb.
There are two kinds of clauses:
2a. Independent Clauses
An independent clause is a group of words that can stand alone as a sentence, although it does not have to.
You might remember that a sentence is a subject plus a verb plus a full thought; an independent clause is going to contain all of those elements and thus be able to stand on its own as a sentence, if it wants to.
EXAMPLE"The dog sat in the doghouse" is an independent clause because it contains a subject ("the dog"), a verb ("sat"), and a complete thought (what the dog did and where).
This kind of sentence is called a simple sentence because it has one independent clause. You will learn more about the different sentence types in the next lesson.
2b. Dependent Clauses
A dependent clause is a clause that cannot stand on its own as a sentence. It still has a subject and a verb, but it’s missing that fully expressed thought that lets an independent clause stand alone.
Therefore, a dependent clause is dependent upon connecting to an independent clause in order to become a full sentence.
EXAMPLE"While he was tired" is a dependent clause.
If you wrote this clause as a full sentence, would that be correct? No, because although the dependent clause has a subject ("he") and a verb ("was"), it’s missing a complete thought (what was happening during the time he was tired). You need to know what comes before or after this clause in order to understand the thought.