Difference Between Phrase and Clause

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: June 06, 2023


Difference Between Phrase and Clause

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Phrases and clauses play an important part in structuring a sentence in grammar. Simple sentence building blocks like clauses and phrases are essential for developing complex sentence structures. Phrases and clauses are two different types of word groups that need to be distinguished to properly punctuate sentences and prevent fragmentation. They are collections of words that work together to complete a sentence as a whole, it may or may not be meaningful.

A phrase is said to be a group of words without a subject or predicate component, thus unable to convey a proper message or thought and cannot stand alone in a sentence. It may be the case that it lacks both a subject and a verb or that it has only one of the two. The action of a verb is never carried out by a subject in a phrase. As a result, phrases are typically used as sentence-building components.

For Ex-

  • Because of her absence             
  • Beside the table             
  • On the table

A clause is a collection of words that contains both a subject and a verb or, with the noun doing the verb. In some cases, A clause can function as a sentence, but it need not be a full sentence.

For Ex-

  • I am waiting for you.             
  • Lock the door!             
  • She wants to be a fashion designer.

Clauses contain phrases as a component. They give sentences more meaning, but a sentence can be written without a phrase. It may be difficult to comprehend a sentence if a clause is completely removed.

Phrase vs Clause

The key difference to remember between a phrase and a clause is that- a clause is a group of words that consists of a subject and a verb, whereas a phrase is devoid of a subject and a verb. We can create a sentence using a single clause, as a clause may or may not represent a complete idea but a single phrase is unable to present a complete message, while phrases cannot create sentences on their own, they provide value to sentences.

For Ex-

Clause- I went to school

Phrase- had been studying

Difference Between Phrase and Clause in Tabular Form

Parameters of comparisonPhraseClause
DefinitionA phrase is a set of words that doesn’t consists of a subject or a verb.A clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb.
ComponentIt is a part of a clause or a complete sentence.It is a part of a complete sentence only.
Complete meaningIt cannot convey a complete idea or a thought on its own. It needs the support of a clause.It can convey a complete idea or message on its own.
FunctionalityIt is unable to function on its own. It cannot stand alone in a sentence.It is made up of one or two phrases in a complex sentence and can stand alone to convey a proper idea.
ExamplesOver the horizonAfter a very long walkTom likes the cakePink is my favorite color

What is a phrase?

A phrase is a component of a sentence that is made up of several words that add details about the subject, action, or event being discussed. If a phrase is taken out of a sentence, it will not make sense on its own and cannot stand alone. They enrich sentences with meaning, yet they are unable to construct sentences on their own. As phrases lack the presence of a subject and a predicate they cannot convey a complete thought or idea on their own, thus it is unable to stand alone in a sentence. A phrase is a crucial part of a clause because, when used alongside it, it clarifies the context of a statement.

Sentences are more fascinating when they are punctuated by details from phrases. They can make a noun simpler than a picture and can describe an activity, place, or both. The eight primary categories of phrases that give the typical sentence more variation are as follows.

Noun phrase- In a sentence, a noun phrase takes the place of a noun. It contains a noun and any modifiers that further characterize the word. Adjective phrases can be used to elaborate on a noun.

For Ex- It was a cold winter day.

The old man smiled at me

Adjective phrase- It is a collection of words used to describe a noun or pronoun that serves as the sentence's subject or object. It is also known as an “adjectival phrase."

For Ex- She bought a white and pink polka dot dress.

His handwriting is really small and not very visible.

Verb phrase- Similar to a noun phrase, a verb phrase also consists of a verb and its modifiers. They may also contain supporting or connecting verbs. Verbal phrases frequently contain adverbial phrases.

For Ex- He must be singing in the interschool singing competition.

The kids have been playing outside in the playground

Gerund phrase- Gerunds are -ing verbs that are employed as nouns. In general, when you make use of a gerund phrase, you're substituting a gerund for a noun.

For Ex- Rahul loves swimming in the pool.

Dancing at a party is so much fun.

Participle phrase- A participial phrase begins with a past or present participle and changes the verbs so they can be used as nouns or adjectives.

For Ex- Having read the book already, I knew about the ending of the movie.

Henry noticed his mother wiping a tear from her eyes.

Infinitive phrase- The connecting verb ‘to’ is used at the beginning of infinitive verbs. An infinitive phrase can be used as the subject of a sentence or as the predicate. Depending on their placement in a sentence, infinitive phrases can either serve as nouns or adjectives.

For Ex- Monica’s dream is to get married and live in Germany.

You should have a driver’s license to drive a car.

Appositive phrase- Appositives make it clear which noun you're referring to. An appositive is essentially a sentence that includes more than one word. They help in giving the noun further clarity.

For Ex- Mary searched for her big black dog after he went missing.

Me and my friends, huge music fans, attended a music festival yesterday.

Prepositional phrase- It is used as an expression before a preposition to indicate the place or condition of the sentence's subject.Prepositions are used to elaborate on a noun's or pronoun's position.

For Ex- I live near the outskirts of the city.

The new flower shop is opening behind my house.

Absolute phrase- These phrases change the whole sentence and have a subject but no action verb. Thus, sometimes they are mistaken for a clause.

For Ex- He left the plate, his hand shaking.

Her heart pounding in her chest, Layla opened the window.

What is a clause?

A clause is considered as the core of any sentence. Without a clause, a sentence is just a phrase without a proper meaning. A group of words is referred to as a clause when the subject of the group is a verb that is in the process of being actively performed. It is possible for a clause to serve as a sentence, whether or not it is a complete sentence. A clause can stand alone unlike a phrase to convey a complete thought. A sentence without a clause is simply a collection of words that have no meaning of their own.

A clause mainly consists of two components i.e. a subject and a verb (or predicate). The verb states something about the subject.

Different types of clauses are used in a sentence. Such as:

Independent clause/ main clause- A complete sentence or a complete idea that stands alone is known as an independent clause. Because it constitutes the majority of a sentence, it is sometimes referred to as the main clause. It can be used as a complete sentence on its own or in conjunction with a subordinate clause to add additional information.

For Ex- I am allergic to mushrooms.

I drove to the mall.

Dependent clause/ subordinate clause- Dependent clauses sometimes referred to as subordinate clauses, rely on the independent clause for its meaning. Despite having a subject and a verb, they do not fully express a thought. They require a coordinating or subordinating conjunction to join them to the independent clause. Due to this type of clause, you might get confused between a phrase and a clause.

For Ex- When the little girl saw her father

As soon as Milly reached home

Various types of dependent clauses are commonly used, such as:

Relative clause- Words such as who, whom, which, that, etc. are used to begin a relative clause. It is connected with a dependent clause using relative pronouns (who, whom, which, etc.)

For Ex- I don’t remember who called me yesterday.

 My friend, whom I met yesterday, is not coming to school.

Noun clause- Within a sentence, a noun clause functions like a noun. It has a subject and a verb, in contrast to a noun phrase.

For Ex- The trophy goes to whoever wins the competition.

I know what my mom is trying to hide.

Adjective clause- This clause functions as an adjective in an expression. It uses a subject and a verb to describe a noun. It is somewhat similar to a relative clause.

For Ex-

  • The girl, who gave you flowers, is my daughter.
  • The dress that you gifted me was so beautiful.

Adverbial clause- It acts as a modifier of a verb in a sentence and plays the role of an adverb. It begins with a subordinating conjunction.

For Ex-

  • He remembered, after he left the house, that he needed to call me.             
  • I run until I get tired.

Main differences between a phrase and a clause (in points)

  • A phrase is defined as a collection of two or more words that are connected and form a single unit. On the other hand, a clause might be a phrase that is part of a sentence that has a subject (noun phrase) that is engaged in an activity (finite verb form).
  • A phrase cannot stand alone in a sentence, but a clause can stand alone to convey a complete idea.
  • A phrase is a component of a clause, whereas a clause is a part of a sentence.
  • A phrase doesn’t consist of a subject or a verb, on the contrary, a clause is made up of a subject and a verb (or predicate).
  • A phrase is unable to convey the complete thought in a sentence it is dependent on a clause to add to its meaning, but a clause may or may not represent a complete thought on its own.
  • There are 9 different types of phrases such as nouns, adjectives, absolute, etc. A clause mainly has two types- independent or dependent clause, but further dependent clause consists of- noun clause, adverb clause, etc.
  • Clause example-
    • He smiled.                            
    • The children laughed.
  • Phrase example-
    • by talking about their favorite books                            
    • Listening to music is enjoyable


The first step in understanding the numerous sentence construction options and incorporating different writing styles is to investigate and learn about the differences between clauses and phrases. Once you succeed in this, you can experiment with other phrase structures.

A clause is a complete notion that has a subject and a verb when you are composing a sentence. A phrase is a collection of words that adds additional information to a sentence by changing the subjects and objects, but it does not contain a whole thought. A clause can stand alone in a sentence but a phrase cannot as it is unable to express a complete idea.

Through this article, we were able to understand the basics of what is a phrase and a clause, the main differences between them. They are the building blocks of a sentence in grammar, providing a structure to most languages. They incorporate sense and meaning in a sentence structure.


  1. https://www.twinkl.co.in/teaching-wiki/phrase-vs-clause  
  2. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/phrase-vs-clause
  3. https://www.javatpoint.com/phrase-vs-clause
  4. https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/vs/phrase-vs-clause-identifying-the-differences.html


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"Difference Between Phrase and Clause." Diffzy.com, 2024. Mon. 17 Jun. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-phrase-and-clause>.

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