Is It a Phrase or a Clause? It Matters!

I want to get some terminology straight. I often see posts on Facebook that use the terms phrase and clause — incorrectly. It is important to recognize the difference because whether something is a phrase or a clause directly affects punctuation.

Here is the “CliffsNote” version of the grammar of phrases and clauses.

A phrase is a group of related words — that is, a group of words that hangs together — that does NOT have a subject and verb. There are three kinds of phrases. The two where punctuation is affected are prepositional phrases and participial or infinitive phrases, called verbal phrases.

Here are some examples:

Prepositional phrases

…in the very late afternoon…

…during the riots…

…by the way…

…after lunch…

Participial and infinitive phrases

…having left the office…

…believing him to be the one…

…seen for the very first time…

…to remember all the details…

Depending on what these phrases are doing, where they are, and how long they are, we use or do not use punctuation. [Do you see topics for future blogs here??]

A clause is a group of related words that does have a subject and verb.

…before I arrived that day…

…that he needs to call…

…whether she is still employed there…

…because she has been ill…

Both phrases and clauses are units of the language. As a unit, they have a function in the sentence; that is, they are doing something within the grammar of the sentence. Tune in in the coming days as we talk about what they do and how to punctuate them.

Happy punctuating.

Margie