Phrases and clauses - Graduate Writing Center

Nested Applications
Phrases and Clauses

Phrases and Clauses


Phrases and clauses are the major units of sentence construction. Both are multi-word strings, but the nature of the words determines if that string is a phrase or a clause:

  • A phrase is a group of words that work together but do not contain both a subject and a verb—e.g.,
     
    • commercial off-the-shelf biosensors
    • layer 2 of the ad hoc network
    • after the fall of the Berlin Wall
    • by performing a regression analysis on this second set of variables
       
  • By contrast, a clause includes both a subject and a verb—a noun or noun phrase and the action it is performing (subjects are underlined, verbs are in italics):
     
    • Chapter II describes the commercial off-the-shelf biosensors that form the basis of this research.
    • Layer 2 of the ad hoc network contains the protocols used to transmit data between nodes.
    • After the Berlin Wall fell,
    • Bishop et al. isolated the effect of socioeconomic status by performing a regression analysis on this second set of variables.

 

Types of Clauses

Clauses themselves fall into two types—independent (main) and dependent (subordinate):

  • Independent (main) clauses express a complete thought; they can stand on their own as sentences:
     
    • Chapter II describes the commercial off-the-shelf biosensors that form the basis of this research.

To be complete, a sentence must contain at least one independent clause; a sentence without at least one independent clause is an incomplete sentence, also known as a sentence fragment

  • Dependent (subordinate) clauses are incomplete thoughts; they need—depend on—an independent clause to form a complete thought and therefore a complete sentence:
    • After the Berlin Wall fell.
      • Note the feeling of dissatisfaction this incomplete “sentence” creates: after the Berlin Wall fell . . . then what?
    • After the Berlin Wall fell, Leonard Bernstein conducted a celebratory concert at the Berlin Schauspielhaus.

The defining feature of dependent clauses is their subordinating conjunctions, also known as “dependent marker words,” which are the words that lend dependent clauses their sense of incompleteness. There are numerous subordinating conjunctions, including “whereas,” “although,” “because,” “after,” and many others; you might recognize them as words often used to transition between thoughts. A list of subordinating conjunctions can be found in the links.

Finally, be aware that the boundaries between clauses are punctuated differently depending on what kinds of clauses a sentence contains and how the clauses are positioned in the sentence; for more information, see the pages on introductory commas, FANBOYS commas, and semicolons and colons.

 

Further Information on Phrases and Clauses

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All-Topics Index


The following index makes searching for a specific topic easier and links to the appropriate place in the sequenced material. We think we have most of them, but please email us at writingcenter@nps.edu if we are missing something!

A-Z content menu

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

A

abbreviations

abstracts

academic writing

acronyms

active voice

advisor, selecting and working with

apostrophes

appointment with GWC coaches, how to schedule

argument

article usage

assignments, understanding them

audience

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B

body paragraphs

brackets, square

brainstorming

building better sentences tips

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C

capitalization

citations

citation software

citation styles

clauses

clarity

clustering

coaching, about

coaching, how to schedule

colons

comma splices

commas, FANBOYS

commas, introductory

commas, list

commas, nonessential / nonrestrictive information

commas, Oxford

commas, serial

commonly confused words 

compare-and-contrast papers 

concision

conclusions

conjunctive adverbs

coordinating conjunctions

copyright and fair use

critical thinking  

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D

dangling modifiers

dashes

dependent clauses

dependent marker words

display equations

double submission of coursework

drafting

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E

editing your own work

editing: outside editors

em dash

en dash

exclamation points

executive summary

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F

FANBOYS

FAQs

first person, use of in academic writing

footnotes

fragments

free-writing

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G

gerunds

grammar

group writing

GWC appointment, how to schedule

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H

homophones

hyphens

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I

ibid.

incomplete sentences

independent clauses

introductions

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J

Joining the Academic Conversation

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L

LaTeX

library liaisons

lists, syntax of

literature reviews 

logic and analysis 

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M

making a GWC appointment

mathematics

memos

methodologies

misplaced modifiers

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N

nominalizations

note-taking

noun clusters

numbers

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O

organization

outlining

Oxford comma

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P

paragraph development 

parallelism

paraphrasing

parentheses

parts of speech

passive voice

periods

persuasion

phrases vs. clauses

plagiarism, how to avoid through citations

plain language

polishing

prepositional phrases 

prepositions

pronouns

publishing

punctuation

purpose of research

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Q

questions

quotation marks 

quoting

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R

reading with intent

redundancies                                                                

reference software

reflection papers 

research

research questions

reusing papers

reverse outlining

revision

roadmaps                                            

run-on sentences 

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S

scheduling a GWC appointment

self-citing

semicolons

sentence fragments

serial comma

signal phrases

significance

so what?

sources, engaging with / critiquing

sources, evaluating the reliability of

sources, citing

spelling

standard essay structure

STEM / technical writing 

style

subject–verb agreement

subjects, grammatical

subordinating conjunctions

summarizing

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T

technical writing

that vs. which

thesis writing

thesis advisor, selecting and working with

thesis process overview

thesis process tips

thesis proposals – common elements                                                     

thesis statements

this, that, these, those

tone, professional

topic sentences 

transitions

types of papers

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U

United States or U.S.?

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V

verbs and verb tense

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W

which vs. that

Why write?

writer’s block 

writing process

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Z

Zotero

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