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Difference between Clause and Phrase

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2:43 min read
  Angbeen Chaudhary  —  Grammar Tips
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A sentence in English language can divided into various parts. Each part of a sentence serves its relative purpose and has some specific characteristics. While all of this seems simple, there is still a lot of confusion that arise between different parts of a sentence. One of the most puzzling pair of speeches is a clause and a phrase.

Clauses and phrases are two very different parts of a sentence but some of their similar features make it difficult for the learners of English language to distinguish between the two. In this article, we will discuss both clauses and phrases and what separates the two of them. More importantly, we will talk about some easy ways to tell the both of them apart.


A clause is a group of words in a sentence which contains a subject and a verb.


The boy is playing.

In the above simple sentence, boy is the subject and playing is the verb so the part boy is playing is a clause because it has both subject and verb.

A clause might also contain an object along with the subject which makes it stand alone as a complete sentence. One of the easiest way to distinguish between a clause and a phrase is that a clause is a set of words that makes complete sense and does not require any additional helping words to complete it.

Sara smiled.

Consider the above example; you will notice that this two word simple sentence make complete sense and is understandable. It consists of a subject and a verb thus it is a clause.

A single sentence might have one clause like in the above examples, but there can exist a sentence which contains more than one clause in it.


I looked everywhere but the cat was gone.

The above sentence contains two clauses I looked everywhere and cat was gone. In the same manner, longer and more complicated sentences might also contain more than two clauses.


A phrase is a group of words in a sentence that does NOT contain a subject and a verb. In other words, in a sentence, one part with subject and verb is a clause while the rest of it without those two parts of speeches is a phrase.


On the wall, in the water, over the horizon.

All of the above examples are parts of different sentences which are void of a subject and verb thus they are classified as phrases.

A clause and a phrase may co-exist in a sentence. For example;

He is playing in the field.

He is playing is a clause (subject+verb) and in the field in a phase.

Another easy way of remembering the difference between a phrase and a clause is that a phrase does not make complete sense on its own and requires the help of other words to make it a complete sentence.

Take the above example, if you find in the field written somewhere alone, you will be very confused about its meaning and will be unable to understand it. Thus, a phrase is a set of words that does not make up a complete and understandable sentence by its own. 

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  • Stargayzr
    What about a dependent clause? Since it is not a complete thought, and it can't stand alone, is the fact that it contains a subject and a verb make it a clause instead of a phrase?
    LikeReply 13 years ago
  • Mearie Jean Amba Faustino
    Mearie Jean Amba Faustino
    very helpful!
    LikeReply 23 years ago
  • Amit Kumar Prajapati
    Amit Kumar Prajapati
    Thankyou very much !
    LikeReply 23 years ago
  • Abdul Rauf
    Abdul Rauf
    LikeReply 13 years ago
  • Linda Ikechukwu
    Linda Ikechukwu
    LikeReply 23 years ago
  • Dickens MP
    Dickens MP
    Thanks a lot Angbeen
    LikeReply 13 years ago
  • Agustina Ramírez
    Agustina Ramírez
    LikeReply 13 years ago
  • Ebuka Elvis
    Ebuka Elvis
    Thanks for this.
    LikeReply 24 years ago
  • Nii Addy
    Nii Addy
    This is the best explanation and of course I totally understood it
    LikeReply 24 years ago
  • Gaurav Victory
    Gaurav Victory
    Nice Explanation
    LikeReply 24 years ago
  • Chioma Orakwe
    Chioma Orakwe
    thanks. totally understood
    LikeReply 24 years ago
  • Tubby La - rwandaise
    Tubby La - rwandaise
    LikeReply 14 years ago
  • Nacho Vera
    Nacho Vera
    thx u!! it really helped me <3
    LikeReply 14 years ago
  • Surinder Kumar
    Surinder Kumar
    LikeReply 14 years ago
  • Dupe Onabanjo
    Dupe Onabanjo
    LikeReply4 years ago
  • ɉaħằnḡíɍ Kıỹǎņḭ
    ɉaħằnḡíɍ Kıỹǎņḭ
    thanks ..
    LikeReply 14 years ago
  • Oyoga Paul
    Oyoga Paul
    thanks alot because i understood the difference in the terrms well and their relavant examples
    LikeReply 24 years ago
  • Maxamed Abdirisaq Cali
    Maxamed Abdirisaq Cali
    thank you vary much because I undertood difference between phrase and clause, but bebofore I did not know the difference both.
    LikeReply 14 years ago
  • Hafeez Fateh
    Hafeez Fateh
    baz vsh,, great
    LikeReply 14 years ago
  • Yomna Mahdi
    Yomna Mahdi
    LikeReply 24 years ago
  • Joseph Owusu
    Joseph Owusu
    Your explanation about clauses and phrases is crystal clear.Thanks a million!
    LikeReply 34 years ago
    • STANDS4
      You're most welcome, Joseph!
      LikeReply4 years ago
  • Shah Muhammad
    Shah Muhammad
    That is the way to differenciate between phrase and clause. Realy, I appriciate it.......
    LikeReply 24 years ago
    • STANDS4
      It's our pleasure, Shah!
      LikeReply4 years ago
  • Wasfi Shari
    Wasfi Shari
    Thanks for your clear explanation. Much appreciated.
    LikeReply 24 years ago
    • STANDS4
      Glad you've liked it, Wasfi!
      LikeReply4 years ago


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