Grammar for Authors: Phrases and Clauses

Ah, the sweet wonder of winter! The whimsical clouds filling the sky, the temperatures cold enough for sweaters, the steam rising from mugs of tea, the snow blanketing someone else’s yard.

I only pretend to boast about the snow-free winters where I live; in reality, I envy you all who experience the mysterious phenomenon called “seasons.” And I only talk in phrases when introducing…

*drumroll please*

A Grammar with Beth post about phrases and clauses!

In the last months, we’ve defined different parts of speech here, here, and here. We’ve talked about subjects, predicates, objects, and complements.

Now, we’re learning about the last piece of sentences before we can actually talk about types of sentences.

General Disclaimer: While I love grammar, I’m also new at learning it. I will do my best to explain things correctly. If you find that I’ve misunderstood or misrepresented something, please share that in the comments. Please do so kindly, though. The goal of this is for all of us to learn and become better writers, and people learn better from kindness than troll-ness. Thank you!


Today, we’re staying pretty high-level, as we have been through this whole “basics” series. When we get through sentence types, we’ll get into “intermediate” and start both getting more depth and talking about rules.

But first, phrases.

Definition: Phrases are groups of words that express one idea but do not a subject-verb pair. Most of the time, that means that phrases do not have both a subject and a verb.

Some examples to clarify:

There are many different kinds of phrases, each with their own oddities, but that’s something to look forward to in the future ;)


There are four types of clauses, but for our purposes today, we’re just going to talk about the ones that play a role in the four main categories of sentences. Those are main (independent) clauses and subordinate (dependent) clauses.

Main or Independent Clauses

Definition: An independent clause is a group of words that has a subject and a verb and is a complete thought.

It can be simple, with one subjectverb pair:

Bradley barks.

It can be more complicated, with multiple subjects for one verb, or with multiple verbs:

  • The chicken, goose, and ducks clamored
  • Cory and Alejandra laughed and gossiped

It can include objects and complements:

  • The puppy jumped on the bed
  • Bobby hit Markie’s cake

Another way to check is that main clauses could be complete sentences on their own.

Subordinate or Dependent Clauses

Definition: Dependent clauses have a subordinating conjunction, a subject, and a verb. They are not complete thoughts on their own.

Subordinate clauses, surprise surprise, use subordinating conjunctions, which serve to show that one idea is less important than other ideas in the sentence:

  • whether the cat purrs
  • although the box is a time machine
  • if you build it
  • rather than Yvonne or Julio building a pillow fort

Dependent clauses cannot be complete sentences. They depend on something else (namely an independent clause) to be complete.

Stylistically, sometimes it is okay to use a subordinate clause as a sentence. However, this should be done very, very rarely. Whether you like the rule or not.

Here are some examples of how main and subordinate clauses are different:

In April, we learn about types of sentences! Woohoo!

Let me know your questions, comments, corrections, and examples of phrases and clauses in the comments! If this was helpful, please click “like.”

Have a lovely March!

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