Differences Between Phrases and Clauses | 123Read&Write

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A key component to improving one’s writing skills is to understand the difference between a phrase and a clause. An independent clause is the group of words  that can express a complete thought. A dependent clause needs help from the main clause to complete the thought or sentence. A phrase is a group of words which plays a smaller role in the schematic of a complete sentence.  

The Phrase

A phrase is a collection of words that may have nouns or verbals (gerunds, participles, infinitives); but it does not have a subject doing a verb. Therefore, it is not a complete sentence.

Very soon

Near the fence

For the guests

In my room

Within the picture

The Independent Clause

There’s a painting of an ocean.

The Clause

An independent clause has a subject and predicate and can stand by itself (hence independent; it stands alone), thereby forming a complete sentence with punctuation.

 The show will start.

He hit the ball.

I’m making dinner.

I have to clean.

Putting It Together

The underlined part of each of following sentences shows a clause, while the rest part (non-underlined) of each sentence shows a phrase.

The show will start very soon.

He hit the ball near the fence.

I’m making dinner for the guests.

I have to clean in my room.

Within the picture, there’s a painting of an ocean.

The Dependent Clause

A dependent clause, which cannot stand on its own (hence it “depends” on help) has a subject doing a verb, but they have a conjunction (i.e. and, but, or, etc.) placed in front of the clause; or do not form a complete thought. That conjunction means that the clause can't stand independently by itself and become a complete sentence. In the following examples, the subject is underlined and the verb is bold-faced; but these clauses do not form a complete thought, which makes them dependent.

When my mom arrives

Because she asked for help

Until the sun rises

Since I can’t afford it

When you come to visit