English Grammar Explained: What is a phrase and what is a clause?


In today’s English lesson we will be looking at phrases and clauses. Have you ever had someone explaining to you something about English grammar and using terms such as a phrase or a clause? And you were like, what is a phrase? What is a clause? Well, I’m here to answer these questions. Let’s begin first with the definition of a phrase.

what is a clause and a phrase

Keep reading and learn MORE TIPS TO IMPROVE your English Grammar.

 Click here for more lessons



·A phrase is two or more words that function together as a group.

a pretty lady,    dead tired,         would have found,         at the sea


·There are 5 types of phrases:

noun phrase  the yellow cab

verb phrase    is becoming      

adjective phrase         pretty tired

adverb phrase              clearly  

prepositional phrase               in the afternoon



·         The main element of a noun phrase is the noun, so we say that a noun phrase is built around a noun.


·         There is often a determiner and/or an adjective.


(Determiner)                (Adjective)                Noun

       the                                                          Internet

      the                              yellow               cab

      a                                   green             umbrella

                                         global             warming


·A noun phrase can be replaced by a pronoun.

The show was amazing.

It was amazing.



·A verb phrase is the verbal part of a clause. It has an ordinary verb, but there can also be one or more auxiliaries.


           (Auxiliaries)             Ordinary verb


              must                              try

               are                           travelling

            doesn’t                           need


           has been                        playing


· Be, have and do can be both ordinary verbs and auxiliary verbs.


The show was amazing. (Here, be is an ordinary verb.)

The vaccination is becoming essential. (In this case, be is an auxiliary, and the main (ordinary) verb is become.)



·The main element of an adjective phrase is the adjective.


·It can sometimes have an adverb of degree in front of it.


(Adverb)                  Adjective


pretty                         strange



·An adverb phrase is built around an adverb. It sometimes has an adverb of degree in front of it.


(Adverb)                      Adverb


really                            quickly



·Prepositional phrase contains a preposition and a noun phrase. The preposition always comes before the noun phrase.


Preposition                 Noun phrase

      at                              any time

      at                               the sea

      in                            the afternoon

      on                              the table


Let’s go on to clauses.....




· A clause is a part of a sentence which contains a subject and a verb, usually joined to the rest of a sentence by a conjunction.


·The word clause is also sometimes used for structures containing participles or infinitives with no subject or conjunction.


·Therefore, we can conclude that a clause must always contain a verb (ordinary verb, participle, infinitive), while other elements (subjects) are optional.


·A clause can be a part of a sentence, or it can be a complete sentence.

He was playing soccer.


She stayed home            because she was ill.

(clause)                                               (clause)


·         Every sentence contains at least one main clause. A main clause is the clause that makes sense on its own, it is an independent clause.


·         Independent clauses can form part of a compound sentence or a complex sentence.


·         Compound sentences are made up of two or more main clauses linked by a conjunction such as and, but or so.


Jack was playing tennis and Mary was writing a letter.

Here, you can see that both clauses can stand on their own. We can say Jack was playing tennis or Mary was writing a letter and those are grammatically correct sentences.

·         Before defining complex sentences, we need to introduce the term dependent clause.


o   A dependent clause, or a subordinate clause, is the opposite of an independent clause, it cannot stand on its own. It is a part of a sentence and it depends on a main clause for its meaning.

o   Dependent clauses often begin with words such as since, when, if, because…

o   So, a complex sentence is made up of a main clause and a subordinate (dependent) clause.

If you see her,  tell her that I love her.

(subordinate     (main clause)