PHRASES AND CLAUSES
ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

PHRASES AND CLAUSES

A Phrase is a group of words that contains neither a subject nor a predicate. It is used as a single part of speech. We have different kinds of phrases: noun phrase (which acts as a noun), adjective phrase (which acts as an adjective), and prepositional phrase (which acts as a preposition). Consider the italicised phrases in this sentence: “Okafor was dismissed on account of his gross misconduct in his new office not because he gave a cup of coffee to that stranger in Khaki suit.” (prepositional, adverbial, noun, and adjective phrases respectively).

Clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate and is used a part of a sentence. The two major categories of clauses are:

  • Main (i.e. independent or principal) clause, which makes the main statement and is capable of standing alone.
  • Subordinate (or dependent) clause, which is incapable of standing on its own and depends on the main clause for its meaning.

Further sub-categories of the subordinate clause exist according to the functions they perform ( or parts of speech they stand for): noun clause, adjective clause, adverb clause, infinitive clause, participial clause, and gerund clause. The sentence “He knew why I left when he called the girl who was cooking for me” contains a main clause (He knew) and three subordinate clauses which are adverb (of reason/cause), adverb (of time) and adjective clauses respectively).

The major difference between a phrase and a clause, therefore, is that the latter has a finite verb but the former has none.

 

Forms and Functions of Phrases and Clauses Form

The form of a phrase or a clause refers to its external appearance, its constituent elements, or the types and arrangement of words in it. Notably, the form of a phrase differs from that of a clause. For example, an adjective or an adverb phrase is just a verbless cluster of words, which usually begins with a preposition and ends with a noun (Her hoe in the garden is out of sight;) but an adjective or an adverb clause contains a subject, expressed or implied, and a verb (The man that came here yesterday rejoiced because you gave him ten naira).

 

Functions

The function of a phrase or a clause is its grammatical role in a sentence. Relatively, a phrase performs the same range of functions as a subordinate clause in the sentence because either of them can act as a noun, an adjective, or a adverb, depending on the sentence construction. For example, in the two sentences above, in the garden and out of sight are adjective and adverb phrases respectively while that came here yesterday and because you gave him ten naira are also adjective and adverb clauses respectively.

 

PHRASES (Kinds and examples)

1) NOUN PHRASE

  • A cup of wine is enough.
  • It is a way of life.

 

Form (appearance): It usually begins with an article (or a determiner) and ends with a noun.

Functions (uses): It is used as either subject or object, or complement of a verb, or object of a preposition, etc.

 

2) ADJECTIVE PHRASE

  • His hoe in the farm is bad.
  • That pen on your table is mine.

 

Form (appearance): It usually begins with a preposition and ends with a noun.

Functions (uses): It modifies nouns, pronouns, adjectives and participles.

 

 

3) ADVERB PHRASE

  • He is in the class.
  • He is out of his senses.

 

Form (appearance): It usually begins with a preposition and ends with a noun.

Functions (uses): It is used to modify verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and other words except nouns and pronouns.

 

4) PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE

  • He is in front of the house.
  • He shouts with a view to attracting our attention.

 

Form (appearance): It usually begins with a preposition and always ends with a preposition.

Functions (uses): It is used as a single preposition or it merely does the duty of preposition: it controls or governs the noun or noun-equivalent after it.

 

5) VERB PHRASE

  • Before he comes out i will have gone.
  • But he has gone already.

 

Form (appearance): It usually begins with an auxiliary verb and always ends with a main verb (i.e. it is made up a verb and its auxiliaries).

Functions (uses): It is used in the sentence as a verb, stating action or being of the subject.

 

6) INFINITIVE PHRASE

  • To love a girl is to cherish her.
  • His desire to sing a good song is nice.

 

Form (appearance): It contains an infinitive plus its object, if present, and any accompanying modifiers. Usually, it begins with an infinitive and ends with a noun.

Functions (uses): It is used as a noun, as an adjective, or an adverb in the sentence.

 

7) PARTICIPIAL PHRASE

  • The boy sitting there is my brother.
  • Walking down the crooked road, the boy met his father.
  • Spoilt children are careless.

 

Form (appearance): It contains a participle and its object, if present, and any accompanying modifiers; it usually begins with a participle and ends with a noun.

Functions (uses): It is used as an adjective in the sentence.

 

CLAUSES

(A) MAIN CLAUSE

  • He called me but / did not answer because we were not on speaking terms then.
  • Visit me if you want.

 

Form (appearance): It contains a subject, expressed or implied, and a verb. It expresses a complete thought, and it can stand alone if isolated.

Functions (uses): It makes the main statement.

 

(B) SUBORDINATE CLAUSE

  • He called me because he was in trouble.

 

Form (appearance): It contains a subject, expressed or implied, and a verb, but unlike the main clause, it cannot stand alone if isolated.

Functions (uses): It adds the supporting detail into the idea in the main clause and performs the function of any single part of speech.

 

1) NOUN CLAUSE

  • That he is corrupt is a fact.
  • He bought what I wanted.

 

Form (appearance): It contains a subject and verb, occupies the position of a noun, and is usually introduced by such subordinating conjunctions as “what’, “that” , “who”, “where”, “why”. It can be replaced by “something” or by it.

Functions (uses): It does the work of a noun.

 

2) ADJECTIVE CLAUSE

  • This is the house which your brother built.
  • Obi was the man who/that spoke to the girls whom I called.

 

Form (appearance): It contains a subject and predicate; it is introduced by such relative pronouns or sub-ordinating conjunctions as: “which” “who”, “that”, “whom”, “whose”, etc.

Functions (uses): It does the work of an adjective by modifying nouns or pronouns in another clause.

 

3) ADVERB CLAUSE

  • Work hard if you want to pass your exams.
  • Although she smiled when I called her names, she abused me afterwards.

 

Form (appearance): It contains subject and verb, and is introduced by any of the following subordinating conjunctions: although’,`as’ , `because,`how’ , if’, lest’, like’, so’, so that , `than’, that’, though, unless’, when’ where , while’, etc.

Functions (uses): It does the work of an adverb; it modifies word(s) – verb, adjective, adverb – in another clause, and tells us`when’, where’, why’, `for what’, or how’ the verb in the main clause performs its action.

 

4) INFINITIVE CLAUSE

  • Who asked you to call me?
  • Ben told her to do the work well.

 

Form (appearance): It is a non-finite clause, containing an infinitive and its object, if present, and any accompanying modifiers.

Functions (uses): It does the work of a noun; an adjective or an adverb and relates to word(s) in some other clause.

 

5) PARTICIPIAL CLAUSE

  • Having slept for eight hours, I woke up refreshed.
  • Satisfied, I relaxed.

 

Form (appearance): It is a non-finite clause made up of the participle and its object, if present, and any accompany modifiers.

Functions (uses): It does the work of an adjective, modifying a noun or pronoun in the other clause.

 

6) GERUND CLAUSE

  • Swimming, he learnt the chief coaches tactics.
  • By praying without ceasing, Okafor became God’s friend.

 

Form (appearance): It contains a gerund and its modifiers, if present, with an understood subject and verb.

Functions (uses): It does the work of an adverb by modifying other word(s) in another clause.

 

7) VERBLESS CLAUSE:

  • While on holiday, I read three novels.
  • She smiled again, her eyes at us.

 

Form (appearance): It contains no verbal element and no subject; its verb and subject are usually understood.

Functions (uses): It does the work of an adverb by modifying other word(s) in another clause.

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