What are Phrases and Clauses?

In our previous article on How to use Punctuation, you would have noticed a couple of references to Phrases and Clauses. Have you ever heard of Phrases and Clauses? If not, read on to understand what these two separate, yet related parts of speech are and their importance in sentence structure. And if you have heard of Phrases and Clauses, refresh your knowledge by scanning through the examples below.

A phrase is a group of words that does not contain a finite verb; while a clause is a group of words that does contain a finite verb. A Phrase and a Clause are both simply groups of words.

This article will go on in more detail to explain exactly what phrases and clauses are and how they are used in modern-day speech. Let us begin with phrases.

What are Phrases and Clauses?

What are Phrases?

A phrase is a group of (two or more) words without a subject and a finite verb. A phrase is sensibly arranged within the sentence and conveys a single idea. A phrase can never stand alone or make up its own sentence. It always must be part of a sentence. A phrase can also be referred to as a ‘fragment’ of a sentence.

  • The shop around the corner is open twenty-four hours a day.
  • The company, specialising in travel, received the award.
  • Remember to take you inhaler with you wherever you go.
  • We went to go throw the ball around in the forest.

There are a few ways that phrases can be classified. Take a look at these three different types of phrase classifications below:


These qualify (tell us more about) the noun.

  • The model with the dazzling smile came from Durban.


These phrases answer the questions who or what, in connection with the noun. A noun phrase plays the role of a noun. In a noun phrase, the modifiers (e.g., ‘the,’ ‘a,’ ‘of them,’ ‘with her’) can come before or after the noun.

  • Everyone in the courtroom stood when the Judge entered. (who?) (Who stood when the judge entered?)
  • Nobody wanted to touch the dog with fleas. (what?)
  • Singing in the shower is my favourite thing to do. (what?)
  • The yellow house is for sale. (what?)


An adverbial phrase is a group of words that functions as an adverb. These modify the verb and answer the questions as indicated. Here are the five different types – notice in all cases you could not have the highlighted adverbial phrase stand alone as its own functioning sentence:

Adverbial Phrase of Manner (How?)

  • The girl entered the room happily and confidently. (How did she enter the room?)
  • Ms Malekeri ate to her heart’s content. (How did she eat?)
  • Due to his morning exercise routine, he ran swiftly and fast. (How did he run?)

Adverbial Phrase of Time (When?)

  • The girl entered the room at nine o’clock.   (When did she enter the room?)
  • We planned to go online at six in the evening.   (When has they planned to go online?)
  • Could we see each other tomorrow around noon.    (When will they see each other?)

Adverbial Phrase of Place (Where?)

  • The girl in the room was reading a book. (Where was she?)
  • I saw a young lady in Forever 21 buying loads of new dresses.   (Where was the girl?)
  • If you see Michael on the field at break, tell him I’m looking for him.   (Where may Michael be?)

Adverbial Phrase of Reason (Why?)

  • The girl, wanting to read, entered the room. (Why did she enter the room?)
  • I went to the doctor for an exam. (Why did you go to the doctor?)
  • The man shouted at his son because he was angry at him. (Why did he shout?)

Adverbial Phrase of Concession (Although, even though...)

  • The girl, although tired, read her book. (Even though she was tired, what did she do?)
  • Although Cicely was British, she lived in South Africa. (Even though she was British, where did she live?)
  • I felt ready for the job, although I was apprehensive to start work. (Even though she didn’t want to work, how did she feel?)

It is important to note that the Adverb and the Adverbial Phrase are related.

angrilyin an angry manner
tomorrowthe following day
herein this place
What are Phrases and Clauses?

What are Clauses

A clause conveys a single idea. It is sensibly arranged within a sentence. Clauses may be classified as the Main Clause (also known as the Independent Clause) and the Subordinate Clause (also known as the Dependent Clause). Subordinate Clauses can then be subcategorized as Noun Clauses; Adjectival Clauses; and Adverbial Clauses. We will consider each of these types of clauses in the remainder of the article. A tip to finding the clause in sentences is to identify the finite verb. Underline the finite verbs and these will tell you how many clauses there are in each sentence.

  • As the sun went down, we listened to classical music.
  • The girl, whose name was Jane, was chosen to be the leader.

THE MAIN CLAUSE (also known as the Independent Clause)

The Main Clause is the main idea of the sentence. It is able to stand alone (even if the rest of the sentence is omitted) and makes complete sense.

  • The van came to a halt after it had run out of petrol.

THE SUBORDINATE CLAUSE (also known as the Dependent Clause)

This always contains a verb but cannot stand alone. It is dependent on the Main Clause for its meaning. A comma often separates the Main Clause from its Subordinate Clause.

  • While the engine was running, the man jumped out of the car.



Noun Clauses perform the same functions as Nouns. They can be replaced by ‘it’ or ‘that’. They may be the subject or object of the sentence and answer to ‘who’ or ‘what’

  • What they learnt at school helped them in the work place.


An Adjectival Clause always qualifies a word or words in the Main Clause. It usually begins with ‘who’, ‘which’, ‘that’, ‘whom’ and ‘whose’. It is similar to additional information that is found in brackets.

  • The girl who had the longest hair won the beauty competition.


Adverbial Clauses perform the same functions as Adverbs. They may be classified as follows:

  • Time (When?)                   ….when the sun set.
  • Place (Where?)                 …where it hung suspended.
  • Manner (How?)                …as fast as she could run.
  • Reason (Why?)                 …because it was raining.
  • Concession (though, although and however)       …although the weather was threatening.
  • Result (so…that)              She was so ill that she was hospitalised.
  • Purpose (so that)             …so that he could have a better view.
  • Condition (if, unless)       …if you choose the correct numbers.

Conclusion – What are Phrases and Clauses?

Who knew that groups of three or more words in a sentence needed to be categorized, depending on whether or not they contained a finite verb? In this article, we have learned that phrases and clauses fill this role in sentence structure. A phrase is a group of (two or more) words without a subject and a finite verb.

cardboard gift box with postcard on table
What are Phrases and Clauses?

A clause is a group of words containing a finite verb. We also discussed the two categories clauses that can be broken into in greater detail. After diligently examining the article above, you will be able to isolate phrases, independent clauses, and dependent clauses.

To be able to identify and correct sentence errors, you first need to practice identifying phrases and clauses. Why not look at some text available to you to try and see how far you get in picking out phrases or clauses in a sentence.

This website is designed for those who are excelling at English as well as the student that may struggle to grasp some basic concepts. Forgot some Collective nouns? Poetry Turning out to be a problem to interpret? Looking for tough concepts to be easily explained? Look no further!

Our development team hope you enjoy the content provided. Please leave us a comment below should you have any queries or concerns. This content is designed to assist the end-user with the Department of education syllabus.

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