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Phrases & Clauses. And why commas are important!. Word classes. Every word in the English language belongs to a “class”. It will be one of the following: a noun a verb an adjective a n adverb a pronoun a conjunction

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Phrases clauses

Phrases & Clauses

And why commas are important!

Word classes
Word classes

  • Every word in the English language belongs to a “class”. It will be one of the following:

    • a noun

    • a verb

    • an adjective

    • an adverb

    • a pronoun

    • a conjunction

    • a determiner (occurs with a noun or noun phrase – e.g. ‘the’, ‘a’, ‘this’, ‘my’, ‘fewer’ etc.)

    • a preposition (usually indicates the temporal, spatial or logical relationship of its object to the rest of the sentence – e.g. ‘on’, ‘beneath’, ‘against’, ‘during’)

Phrases or clauses
Phrases or clauses

  • We then tend to group words into larger groups known as phrases or clauses.


  • Phrase is the term used for a word or group of words, based on a particular word class.

  • Just as every word can be described according to its word class, so too can a sentence be divided into different types of phrase.

  • Three main types of phrase:

    • Noun phrase (built around a noun)

    • Verb phrase (built around a verb)

    • Adverbial phrase (additional info. relating to place / time / manner or frequency)


  • Copy down the following sentence and for each underlined phrase, state whether it is a noun phrase, a verb phrase or an adverbial phrase:

    • He passed the broken window.

    • She dived into the pool gracefully.

    • They had been shaken by the noise.

    • Tim drove into town twice.


  • He passed the broken window. NOUN

  • She dived into the pool gracefully. ADVERBIAL

  • They had been shaken by the noise. VERB

  • Tim drove into town twice. ADVERBIAL


  • A clause contains both a verb phrase and other types of phrases.

  • Generally speaking the longer a sentence is, the more clauses it is bound to contain.

Types of clauses
Types of Clauses

  • Single / independent clause:

    • A phrase or group of phrases that makes sense on its own – e.g. I lingered at the bottom of the road.

  • Coordinate clause:

    • Two clauses of equal status joined by a conjunction – e.g. I shivered in the mist and turned my collar up.

  • Main clause:

    • Like a single clause can form a sentence by itself, but has a subordinate clause added to it (see next definition).

  • Subordinate clause:

    • One that is in some way dependent on another for its meaning (also known as dependent clause).

    • For example: As I did every morning, I looked up at the sky.

  • The rules
    The Rules:

    • A single clause can stand on its own as a sentence.

    • The two parts of a coordinate clause can stand on their own as sentences.

    • The main clause can stand on its own in a sentence.

    • The subordinate / dependent clause cannot stand alone as a sentence.

    The main rule
    The Main Rule:

    • ALWAYS use commas to separate subordinate / dependent clauses and main clauses within a sentence!

    The comma
    The comma ,

    • Commas mark smaller breaks or pauses than full stops.

    • They must not be used to link two independent statements that could stand alone as sentences (single or main clauses). This creates what is referred to as a COMMA SPLICE – YUCK!

    How to avoid the comma splice
    How to avoid the comma splice

    This is a smug person.

    Smug people do not use comma splices!

    • All you have to do is introduce one of two things after your comma: a connective or a relative pronoun.

    • “This is not a comma splice, because the two main clauses are separated by a comma.”

    • “This was once a comma splice, in which the two main clauses were separated by a comma.”


    • Commas also separate subordinate clauses from main clauses.

    • Subordinate clauses give extra information but aren’t necessary for the sentence to make sense:

    • Anthony, having run fast, was exhausted.

    • Commas are also used to list items.

    • Commas introduce and end direct speech.