Phrases and Clauses

...the basic components of writing

These chapters are best viewed using Firefox. Internet Explorer causes misalignments and bad formatting. — David McMurrey


Clauses at play

Phrases and clauses—along with parts of speech and parts of sentences—are the basic components of sentences. We fit these things together in infinite ways to create an infinite variety of sentences—rather like parts of a highly complicated home entertainment system.

All about Phrases

A phrase is two or more words that lack some semblance of both a subject and verb. This rather vague definition will be clearer when you see the definition of clauses and examples of them.

Noun phrase. A noun and all its modifiers (articles, adjectives, adverbs modifying those adjectives). Some grammarians include prepositions that modify the noun.

Noun phrase: An entirely new culture emerges when people can work together to build a wiki.

Phrase: A phrase is a group of related words that does not include a subject and verb.

Verb phrase. The parts of the verb that function as the grammatical verb of an independent or dependent clause.

Verb phrases: People have said that creating a standard for wikis would be a good idea, and many proposals have been made for standardizing various aspects of wikis, but none have taken hold.

Anybody can recognize a one-word verb. The verb phrases in this compound sentence (yes, three independent clauses) show you a nice range of examples.

Prepositional phrase. A phrase made up of a preposition, and the phrase or clause that acts as its object.

Prepositional phrase: One of the best ways to understand wikis is to see how wikis are different from many other tools for Internet-based communication such as e-mail, blogs, bulletin boards, forums, content management systems, and Web publishing systems.

Three prepositional phrases here. (The dictionary doesn't want to commit whether such as is a preposition; it certainly functions like one). Notice that the phrase to see how wikis are different... is not a preposition; it is an infinitive because it contains the verb see.

Infinitive and infinitive phrase. An infinitive is a phrase in its own right: to plus a verb, for example, to read. However, an infinitive phrase can also be the infinitive plus any phrase or clause associated with it.

Infinitive phrase: One of the fastest ways to get an understanding of wikis is to see how wikis are different from many other tools for Internet-based communication such as e-mail, blogs, bulletin boards, forums, content management systems, and Web publishing systems.

The second infinitive phrase contains an adverb clause: how...systems.


A gerbil pretending to be a noun

Gerund and gerund phrase. A gerund is an -ing form of a verb functioning as a noun in a sentence. A gerund phrase is the gerund plus any phrase or clause associated with it.

Gerund: Between 2004 to 2006, entrepreneurs noticed the market opportunity for providing hosted wikis (also known as wiki farms) that that would allow people to create wikis without needing their own server or special skills.

Both these gerund function as objects of the prepositions for and without.

Appositive. An appositive is a noun phrase along with any phraes or clauses associated with it, the composite of which "renames" a noun or pronoun. In the sentence Joan Doe, our mayor, dedicated the new school, the appositive is our mayor.

Appositive: United States federal intelligence agencies——the CIA, the NSA, the Defense Department, and others——use a wiki to help gather, share, and analyze information.

Particularly complex appositives—for example, ones with their own internal punctuation, often use dashes as in this examples. Parentheses can also be used to set off appositives.

Participial phrase. A participial is an -ing or -ed form of a verb—not functioning as a noun. Instead, it and the phrases or clauses associated with it function as a modifier in a sentence.

Participial phrase: Instead of physical objects, pages in a wiki are electronic virtual objects created by the wiki engine.

Sentence predicate. It's hard to know where to put the predicate. It is simply everything after the subject and its modifiers.

Predicate:
Before 2006, the only way that you could use a wiki was to first set up a wiki engine on a server.
also
Thus, to use a wiki, you had to have access to a server that was available through the Internet as well as the skills to set up and run a wiki engine.

Sentence "subjecticate." This is made up! If the predicate is everything after the subject, why isn't there a term for everything before the predicate? In other words, the subject and all its modifiers. This includes introductory elements.

:
Before 2006, the only way that you could use a wiki was to first set up a wiki engine on a server.

If you are confident that you can identify the different types of phrases, use these two sets of exercises to test yourself:


A highly independent clause

All about Clauses

A clause is a group of words that contains the elements of a complete sentence—specifically, something acting as a subject and something acting as a verb. The two basic categories of clauses are independent clauses and dependent clauses.

Independent clause. A complete sentence—no matter how brief. It works is a complete sentence!

Dependent clause. Almost a complete sentence—something about the subject or the verb is not complete. Dependent clauses cannot stand on their own as complete sentences.

Dependent clauses: A sandbox is a practice page on a wiki where you can become familiar with how wikis work.

The highlighted dependent clause contains still another dependent clause within it: how wikis work.

Adjective clause. A dependent clause that functions as an adjective and modifies a noun or pronoun. In other words, it adds extra information about that noun or pronoun.

Two independent clauses: Ward Cunningham was interested in solving problems and sharing his ideas using his wiki creation, but he generously did not patent his creation.

Adjective clause: A wiki is a collection of Web pages that anyone can edit.

Clause: A clause is a group of related words containing a subject and a verb. In some dependent clauses, a relative pronoun (such as that or which acts as placeholder for the subject.

Adverb clause. A dependent clause that functions as an adverb and modifies a verb (or possibly an adjective or adverb). Adverbs—including adverb clauses—provide how, when, where, why information to a sentence.

Adverb clause: When Ward Cunningham created the first wiki engine in 1994 and then released it on the Internet in 1995, he set forth a major revolution.

Noun clause. A dependent clause that functions as a noun in a sentence. Noun clauses can act as subjects, direct objects, and objects of prepositions.

Noun clause: People get involved with this technology when they learn how to solve their problems with wikis.

This noun clause functions as the direct object of the verb learn. It doesn't matter that this noun clause is located within an adverb clause.

If you are confident that you can identify the different types of clauses, use these two sets of exercises to test yourself:

Exercises

Links to these exercises are provided at the end of the sections where they are relevant. But here they all are in case you read the text straight through:


A sadly dependent clause

Additional Resources


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