Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This question What is the difference between a phrase and a clause? has an answer, with no embedded examples. The link it provides is not longer active, giving a 404 page not found error. Please don't close this as a duplicate until it, at least, has some answers.

The answer to the duplicate explains the differences between clauses and phrases, but fails to answer my question, as this is the explanation given:

The short answer: clauses contain a subject and its verb, while phrases do not. Note that phrases may contain nouns and verbals, but won't have the noun as the verb's actor.

  • I do not understand what is meant by verbals and the noun as the verb's actor may as well be written in Swedish (of which I know not one word!).

So I am posting this question again, as my question has not been answered. Clauses and phrases were the only thing I failed when studying English at school and forever it has been difficult for me to grasp (I don't think it was explained well, as I had a similar problem with positive and negative numbers the same year, and went on the excel at high level maths).

I am looking to understand the very basics of what a clause is, what a phrase is, and by understanding these definitions it, hopefully, will be clear what the differences are.

Can anyone, please, explain this and provide embedded answers?

share|improve this question
1  
So what you really want to know is what verbals are and what noun as the verb's actor means. Those are two separate questions, which you can ask without asking about phrases and clauses! –  Matt Эллен Oct 31 '13 at 16:44
1  
@MattЭллен I am simply stating that the answer to the duplicate question does not provide an answer to my question, what is a clause and a phrase. I am illustrating why it doesn't and what sort of answer I require. Please read my question again. It really is in plain English tx –  user52080 Oct 31 '13 at 16:48
    
I suggest you begin by looking here (and linked pages), but be aware that terminologies (and even approaches) differ. –  Edwin Ashworth Oct 31 '13 at 16:59
2  
The problem is that different people have different definitions of clause and different definitions of phrase. The traditional definition of a clause is "a finite verb and its dependencies". A finite verb is one that has to agree with its (implied) subject, so walks if the subject is he/she/it, walk otherwise. Participles and infinitives are not finite verbs. The traditional definition of a phrase is "any sequence of words", so in theory a clause is a kind of phrase according to that definition, but a phrase need not be a clause. –  Cerberus Oct 31 '13 at 17:09
    
Others define clause as "any verb and its dependencies" and phrase as "any sequence of words that form a constituent". –  Cerberus Oct 31 '13 at 17:10

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I was perusing the net on the hunt for reliable sources to help me understand the subjunctive mood when I came across this section and it reminded me of this question!

I'll quote it in almost its entirety because first, it's very clear and it might be of help to other users and secondly, I liked it.

Clause and Phrases

I. A phrase is a collection of words that may have nouns or verbals, but it does not have a subject doing a verb. The following are examples of phrases:

  • leaving behind the dog
  • smashing into a fence
  • before the first test
  • after the devastation
  • between ignorance and intelligence
  • broken into thousands of pieces
  • because of her glittering smile

In these examples above, you will find nouns (dog, fence, test, devastation, ignorance, intelligence, thousands, pieces). You also have some verbals (leaving, smashing), but in no case is the noun functioning as a subject doing a predicate verb. They are all phrases.

II. A clause is a collection of words that has a subject that is actively doing a verb. The following are examples of clauses:

  • since she laughs at diffident men
  • I despise individuals of low character
  • when the saints go marching in
  • Obediah Simpson is uglier than a rabid raccoon
  • because she smiled at him.

In the examples above, we find either a noun or a pronoun that is a subject (bold) attached to a predicate verb (italics) in each case:

  • since she laughs at diffident men
  • I despise individuals of low character
  • when the saints go marching in
  • Obediah Simpson is uglier than a rabid raccoon
  • because she smiled at him

III. If the clause could stand by itself, and form a complete sentence with punctuation, we call the clause an independent clause. The following are independent clauses:

  • I despise individuals of low character
  • Obediah Simpson is uglier than a rabid racoon

We could easily turn independent clauses into complete sentences by adding appropriate punctuation marks. We might say, "I despise individuals of low character." Or we might write, "Obediah Simpson is uglier than a rabid racoon!" We call them independent because these types of clauses can stand independently by themselves, without any extra words attached, and be complete sentences.

share|improve this answer
    
It's hard to think of someone doing something by being uglier than a rabid raccoon, :) but I guess they are –  user52080 Nov 10 '13 at 14:15
    
I don't have a pet, unless you count my boyfriend. He often purrs and miaows around the house. :) –  Mari-Lou A Nov 10 '13 at 14:18
1  
Boyfriends count :) –  user52080 Nov 10 '13 at 14:25
2  
A downvote, and yet the answer is copied verbatim. The writer's credentials are impressive, as too his resumè or CV if you prefer. But that doesn't matter; what matters is that I always get at least one downvote per day. It's become a standard procedure. And always by cowards too, funny that. –  Mari-Lou A Nov 10 '13 at 16:35
    
I get that on Pets and often on Cognitive Sciences. I think people get jealous –  user52080 Nov 10 '13 at 22:32

The problem is that different people have different definitions of clause and different definitions of phrase.

The traditional definition of a clause is "a finite verb and its dependencies". A finite verb is one that has to agree with its (implied) subject, so walks if the subject is he/she/it, walk otherwise. Participles and infinitives are not finite verbs. By dependencies are meant all complements and satellites to a verb, so subject, object, adjuncts, etc.

The traditional definition of a phrase is "any sequence of words", so in theory a clause is a kind of phrase according to that definition, but a phrase need not be a clause.

Others define clause as "any verb and its dependencies" and phrase as "any sequence of words that forms a constituent".

share|improve this answer
    
As usual, even the most basic terms have not been unarguably defined. –  Edwin Ashworth Nov 1 '13 at 20:29

As stated earlier the presence of two or more words in an expression is enough to raise our suspicion that it is a phrase or a clause.For it to be accepted as a clause, two features have to be identified: 1.A finite verb 2. A subject

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.