Clauses vs. Phrases


Welcome back, dear readers! Today I’d like to look at the difference between a phrase and a clause.


A phrase is a group of grammatically connected words that is missing either a subject or a predicate (see my post, Sentence Autopsy: Part 1 for a review of subjects and predicates). A phrase can never form a complete sentence by itself. However, phrases do add important, relevant information to sentences. They can be subjects, objects, complements, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Let’s look at some examples (phrases are in bold):

  • The chimera’s fierce roar was undermined by the simultaneous bleating of its goat head.
  • A giant tear splashed from Billy the Cyclops’ eye as he lamented his lack of depth perception.
  • Phineus swatted at the harpies that were trying to steal the food inside his brand new Mount Olympus lunchbox.


A clause is a group of grammatically connected words that have a subject and a predicate. Clauses are the backbone of sentences, and in some cases they can stand alone as an entire sentence, which makes them independent clauses. In other cases, they are dependent or subordinate. Here are some examples of both (clauses are in bold):

  • The Gorgon sisters wreaked havoc.
  • Stanley the onocentaur brayed loudly, dismayed that his beloved preferred his fancy centaur cousin.
  • Although he was not as famous as the land-dwelling Minotaur, Quentin the Quinotaur had much more impressive horns.

So there you have it. The subtle but important difference between a phrase and a clause. For more information about types of clauses and functions of phrases, check out the following resources:


Image credit: Harvey


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