myQBook English Grammar Concepts

Differentiating between Phrases and Clauses

The main difference between phrases and clauses is that while clauses have a subject and a predicate, phrases only have one. Clauses are one step closer to forming a complete sentence than phrases are. Clauses may also include phrases. Consider the following examples:

1.       returned his car

2.       while he climbs the mountain

3.       beneath the waterfall

4.       because she was so kind to everyone


Can you tell which examples are phrases and which ones are clauses?

Example one is a phrase because it only has a predicate (a verb and object) but no subject. It is missing the subject: “who returned the car?” Some people may think that the noun “car” is a subject here; however, “car” is a direct object, and therefore a part of the predicate.

Example three is a phrase because it only contains a predicate. Some people may think that this phrase only contains a subject: "waterfall". However, this is not true because a subject has to perform an action. In this phrase, the waterfall isn't doing anything! "Waterfall" is actually the object of the preposition "beneath". Prepositions are part of predicates, so this phrase contains only a predicate.

Example two and four are clauses (although dependent) because they have both a subject and a predicate.

Example 2: Subject = he Verb = climbs

Example 4: Subject = she Verb = was


Many people get confused when they see a sentence with an implied subject; they think it is a phrase. Consider the following example:

leave the house now

Without any capitalization or punctuation, many people may think that the above example is a phrase because they don’t see a subject. However, there is a subject in this sentence, but it is implied. The implied subject is “you” because this is an imperative sentence.

In fact, this is an independent clause. It stands by itself as a complete imperative sentence. Here is the complete sentence:

Leave the house now!

For more information on implied subjects, see the imperative sentences section of “Sentences”.


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Dependent Clauses

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