What’s the difference between a phrase and a sentence? And what about clauses? (Part 2)

This time, let’s talk about clauses! Last time, we said phrases are simply any group of words that go together. Clauses, however, have a few more rules.

A clause must include both a subject and a verb, as in the examples below.

because the essay was interesting
he really doesn’t like traveling
I am writing a cover letter
even if something happens

There is a difference between some of these examples, however.

Independent Clauses

An independent clause is a clause that expresses a complete idea. You could say an independent clause to your friend, and it should make sense. So, from the examples above,

he really doesn’t like traveling
I am writing a cover letter

are independent clauses. The only difference between an independent clause and a sentence is punctuation. If you add proper capitalization and end punctuation, the lines above will be sentences.

Dependent Clauses

Not all clauses are independent, though. Take a look at the other two original examples:

because the essay was interesting
even if something happens

If you walked up to someone and said only one of these lines, would it make sense? He or she would probably think you’d forgotten what you wanted to say. In other words, these lines don’t express a complete idea, and for that reason they are called dependent clauses. They cannot stand alone.

They can, however, be attached to independent clause(s) to form a compound sentence. That will be our next topic — compound vs. complex sentences!

Notice that all clauses have phrases in them. Also, the only difference between independent clauses and dependent clauses is the subordinating conjunction (in bold above) that begins a dependent clause. If you removed this conjunction, the line would become an independent clause.

because the essay was interesting (dependent clause)
↓
the essay was interesting (independent clause)
↓
[the essay (noun phrase)][was interesting (verb phrase)]

Practice Time!

Try identifying whether these lines are (a) independent or (b) dependent clauses, then check your answers below!

  1. after night falls
  2. I am always happy to write
  3. when the company called me
  4. since she listens to good music
  5. naps are relaxing

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1.b 2.a 3.b 4.b 5.a

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