How Do Phrases and Clauses Function? | Writing

March 19, 2015 thetasctest

How Do Phrases and Clauses Function? 

Understanding the difference between a phrase and a clause can help you write grammatically correct and complex sentences. If you are preparing for the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™ Writing subtest, understand the differences.

When you know how to combine phrases and clauses with other parts of speech, you can build intricate and interesting sentences. Luckily, both clauses and phrases are basic components of writing sentences, and you can learn how to distinguish between them.

What is a Clause? 

A clause is a group of words that has a subject that is actively doing a verb. There are two types of clauses.

The first is an independent clause. A clause is independent if it can act as a complete sentence. In other words, an independent clause is grammatically complete and it does not need any additional words (though there may be additional words in the sentence). The following example is an independent clause, even though it is only two words:

He practiced

He is the subject, and practiced is the verb. These are the only two parts of a sentence that are needed to make it grammatically complete. You could add more words to make the sentence informative, but you don’t need to.

The second type of clause is a dependent clause. A dependent clause is the opposite of an independent clause. Because a dependent clause is a fragment, it needs additional words to make it a grammatically complete sentence. You might also hear this type of clause called a subordinate clause because it often has a subordinate conjunction placed at the front of the clause. According to Robin L. Simmons at GrammarBytes, subordinate conjunctions include:






In order that








Provided that




Rather than



Even if




Even though

So that



Subordinate conjunctions provide transitions between ideas in a sentence. These conjunctions also indicate a time, place, or causal relationship. However, subordinate conjunctions need to relate to another part of the sentence to provide that transition. Without that other part, the subordinate conjunction and the dependent clause it is connected to are fragments. For example, the following is a dependent clause:

Once Sarah started studying

Though the clause has a subject and verb, it is not complete because its subordinate conjunction doesn’t connect it to the explanation of what happened once Sarah started studying. Completing this sentence can be done in a different ways:

Once Sarah started studying, she felt more confident about earning her high school equivalency.

David tried to stay out of the office and keep the house quiet once Sarah started studying.

The subordinate conjunction can be placed at the beginning of the sentence, or in the middle. To use a dependent clause to complete a sentence, it just depends on what you want to say.

What is a Phrase?

The function of a phrase is to provide additional information or context to help readers understanding more about the subject or action of your sentence. The professionals at define a phrase as a group of words “that does not have the subject and verb combination,” which a clause has.

Though a phrase can contain a noun or verb, it does not form a predicate or contain a subject. Therefore, it cannot stand alone as a sentence and it is not grammatically complete. The following are examples of a phrase:

At the testing center

To find the right job for me

Preparing for the subject tests

Phrases can be used as part of an independent clause or in conjunction with a dependent clause. When you combine phrases and clauses in this way, you create more complicated sentences. You also provide additional details to your sentence that might not be grammatically necessary but can help your reader understand your point in a clearer way.

For example, you can use the phrases above with clauses to create complete sentences:

Once Sarah started studying, preparing for the subject tests became easier and easier.

The Capital Community College Foundation lists seven different kinds of phrases, which you can review:

  1. Absolute
  2. Appositive
  3. Gerund
  4. Infinitive
  5. Noun
  6. Participial
  7. Prepositional
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