Phrases and Clauses

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A phrase is a group of word, within a sentence or a clause, having a structure to form a unit smaller than a clause and a sentence  but greater than a word. A phrase does not contain a subject and a finite verb like a clause or a sentence. (It may however contain an infinite verb like a participle, infinitive or gerund).

A phrase does not make complete sense in itself, but can have meaning only through its relation to some part of the sentence in which it stands.

E.g.  The writer was a man of great talent.

         He shot an arrow into the air.

        It was a scene of great beauty.

         She wore a gown made of silk.

The underlined words in italics are phrases.

There are five types of phrases named after their main word.

  1. Noun Phrase
  2. Adjective Phrase
  3. Verb Phrase
  4. Adverb Phrase
  5. Prepositional Phrase.


A Noun Phrase is a group of words that does the work of a noun. (subject or object to a verb).

It was a very bright light.

My favourite food is ice-cream.

I enjoy playing tennis.

Thinking good thoughts makes a good man.

To know ones self is a difficult task.

She loves to paint her thoughts.

The italicised words are used as nouns and are called Noun Phrases


When a group of words does the work of an Adjective, it is called an adjective phrase. An adjective phrase does not contain a subject and a finite verb. It does not make complete sense in itself, but can have meaning only through its relation to the part of sentence in which it belongs.

The following sentences show the difference between an adjective and an adjective phrase.

  1 a) The Prussian army was defeated.

      b) The army of Prussia was defeated. 

2. a) The doctor was a generous man.

    b) The doctor was a man of a generous nature.

3.  a) A valuable painting was stolen yesterday.

     b) A painting of great value was stolen yesterday.

The words in the first sentences (a) are examples of adjectives, while the group of words in the second sentences (b) are examples of adjective phrases.

The following are examples of Adjectives and their corresponding phrases.

A silver spoon.
A popular leader.
A populous country.
A religious woman.
A woollen coat.
A deserted town.
A spoon made of silver.
A leader liked by the people.
A country having a large population.
A woman of religious nature.
A coat made of wool.
A town without any inhabitants.


A group of words that does the work of an adverb but does not make complete sense by themselves is said to be an Adverb phrase.

Look at the following sentences:

  1. a) God is everywhere. (Where?)

b) God is in everyplace. (Where?)

  1. a) She replied rudely. (How?)

b) She replied in a rude manner. (How?)

  1. a) He was the Governor then. (When?)

b) He was a Governor in those days. (When?)

In the first sentences (a) everywhere, rudely and then are adverbs. In the second sentences (b) ‘everyplace’, ‘in a rude manner’, ‘in those days’ are adverb phrases.

Examine the following table of Adverbs and their equivalent Adverb Phrases.

                 Adverbs             Adverb Phrases
In a brave manner, or with bravery
In a foolish manner
Without doubt
Without any care
In former times / Once upon a time
At once / without delay
In a short time/ before very long
Not long ago
At that place
In (or to) a foreign country
Towards a higher place or level


A verb phrase is a group of words that does the work of a verb but does not make complete sense by themselves.

The girls were singing a song.

Each student will be given a sample paper.

The children have been playing for two hours .

The teachers are teaching in the class.

My father is going to the market.

The words in italics are examples of verb phrase.


A group of words which acts like a preposition but does not make complete sense by itself is called a prepositional phrase.

The circus came to our city.

There is a bus stop near our school.

On the way home, he met his friend.

Several ducks were swimming in the lake.

Darkness comes after sunset.

The mole lives under the ground.

He left for office at 8 o’clock.


A phrase is usually placed at the end of a sentence.


There were many people in the stadium.

There is a library near my home.

However, we may also place the phrase at the beginning.

In the stadium, there were many people.

Near my home, there is a library.


A clause is a group of words that forms a part of a sentence that has a subject and a finite verb of its own.


Generally clauses are of three types.


MAIN CLAUSE: It is also called the principal clause/ independent clause as the clause makes complete sense.

I knew that he would come.

COORDINATE CLAUSE :Two or more main clauses linked by a co-ordinating linker or conjunction is called a coordinate clause.

He would come and I knew it.

She came first as I had predicted last week.

He wished would pass and he did pass with flying colours. 

SUBORDINATE CLAUSE: A subordinate or dependent clause, does not make complete sense by itself and is dependent on the main clause for its complete sense.

I knew that he would come.

Here is another example-

 The teacher told him that he was late.

The sentence can be broken into two parts .

  1. The teacher told him.
  2. That he was late.

Each part of the sentence contains a subject and a predicate of its own. As there are two parts of the sentence, there are two clauses.

MAIN CLAUSE: The teacher told him. –It is also called the principal clause/ independent clause as the clause makes complete sense.

SUBORDINATE CLAUSE: That he was late. This clause is called subordinate or dependent clause, it does not make complete sense by itself and is dependent on the main clause for its complete sense.

Types of subordinate clause.

There are three types of subordinate clauses.

  1. Noun clause
  2. Adjective or Relative clause
  3. Adverb clause


A subordinate clause that acts as a noun in a sentence is called a Noun clause.

E.g.     a)  I told him that I would get his book.

           b)  Tell her what she wants to know.

           c)  I want to know if he is telling the truth.

Note: Noun clauses are generally introduced by
Wh- question words like who, why , what etc.  


A subordinate Adjective Clause is which qualifies a noun or a pronoun in the main clause and does the work of an adjective. It is also known as Relative Clause.


  1. The book that you are holding is a masterpiece.
  2. The car which is steel grey in colour is mine.
  3. I respect all those people who are knowledgeable.


A subordinate Adverb Clause is that which performs the function of an adverb in a sentence.


  1. Wait till I return.
  2. It is useless to argue as you will not understand.
  3. The suggestions were so good that I agreed immediately.

The underlined clauses, above are Adverb Clauses. Adverb clauses are introduced by the following subordinate conjunctions.

  • Adverb clause of ‘Place’ : (conjunctions used – where , wherever)
    • Wherever you go, I shall find you.
    • The child wants to go where his mother is.
  • Adverb clause of time. (Conjunctions – when while , before after, since,  whenever, till, until, as, as soon as, so long as)
    • The mother was cooking, while the children were dancing.
    • As soon as the robbers saw the police, they ran away.
  • Adverb clause of contrast. ( conjunctions –although, even if , even though)
    • He will not clear the exam , even if he works very hard now.
    • Although he is the younger one he looks older.
  •  Adverb clause of Manner. ( conjunctions- as, as if, as though, as … so.
    • She behaves as though she were a Queen.
    • Don’t treat me as if I am your servant.
  • Adverb clause of Purpose. ( conjunctions-so that, in order that, lest)
    •   Work hard lest you should fail.
    • The labourers worked hard so that they could earn their living.
  •    Adverb clause of Comparison. (conjunctions- as, than)
    • My mother is more intelligent than my father.
    • He is not as tall as his friend.
  • Adverb clause of ‘Condition’. (conjunctions- if, unless, provided that, in case)
    • If she extends an invitation ,I will surely go.
    • I will sign the invitation provided you give me the cheque.
  • Adverb clause of ‘Extent’. (conjunctions- so far as, as far as)
    • As far as my knowledge of him goes, he is a miser.
    • So far as I am concerned, I am willing to contribute.
  • Adverb clause of Result/ Effect / Consequence. (conjunctions – so, so…that)
    • The beggar is so poor that he hardly gets anything to eat.
    • He got up late, so he missed his school bus.
Adverb clause of condition.😀
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