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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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