What is a clause?

We talked about phrases first, as it will help us discuss clauses.
A phrase is a group of words without subject-verb agreement whereas a clause has a subject and a verb, describing the subject of a clause. Therefore, a clause has at least two parts: a noun phrase (a subject) and a verb phrase. A clause constructs a simple sentence.

The girls were laughing. Two phrases - a noun phrase and a verb phrase together create a complete thought, an independent clause and a sentence.

As we can see we use phrases to create sentences.

The little girls were laughing at my mistake.

An English clause always has a subject, sometimes it is a phrase acting as the subject of a sentence/clause. In imperative sentences, the subject is understood:

(You) Go and play.
(You) Please give me that book.

Some structures use a dummy subject: there, it:

It feels nice.
It was raining yesterday.
There were many people at the concert.

A subject of a sentence is created by nouns, pronouns and the whole noun phrase.
She likes speaking.
This is the first time I have seen it.
What I want to talk to you about is tomorrow's meeting.

In some cases, there are two schools of grammar in terms of indicating the subject:
The minister of agriculture stepped down due to the Green Party demands.
Some will argue that a subject of this sentence is a minister and that the other words function as its modifiers.

Clauses are classified depends on their roles and their dependency.

Independent clause can stand alone expressing a complete thought.
She is a sweet girl.

Dependent clause cannot stand alone and always needs an independent clause.
Because she is a sweet girl, everyone likes her.

In this sentence, an independent clause is: everyone likes her.
Because she is a sweet girl is not the complete thought, therefore, cannot stand on its own.

Do not confuse a dependent clause with a phrase; the phrase has not a subject and a verb.

Dependent clauses are also called subordinate clauses because they are created by subordinating conjunctions or dependent words.

Clauses are also classified as essential and nonessential (restrictive and non-restrictive, defining and non-defining), relative clauses, elliptical clauses and sentential clauses.

Dependent clauses are classified in three basic groups, according to the role, they play in a sentence:

  • adjectival clauses (relative clauses, wh-clauses)
  • adverbial clauses - seven types: contrast, reason, place, purpose, result, time and conditional clauses
  • noun(nominal) clauses (subject, subject complement, direct object, object of preposition)

One independent clause creates a simple sentence. Two or more - create a compound sentence.
To create a complex sentence we need to join an independent clause with at least one dependent clause. Therefore, it is important to learn about clauses; how to use them, where to use them and how to use the proper punctuation with clauses.


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