Clauses and Phrases

A phrase is a group of words that acts as a single part of speech. For instance, a sentence might have a gerund phrase that functions as a noun.

Gerund Phrase

A gerund phrase is a gerund with all of its complements and modifiers. A gerund is a verb that ends in -ing and functions as a noun.


Jogging for 30 minutes is good for your heart.

My favorite thing is sleeping late on Saturday mornings.

Participial Phrase

A participial phrase is a participle with all of its complements and modifiers. A participle is an -ing or -en verb that functions as an adjective or adverb. There are two types of participles: present participles and past participles. Present participles end in -ing. Past participles end in -ed, -en, -d, -t, or -n, like in the words asked, eaten, saved, dealt, and seen.


Rocking gently, the mother did her best to calm her upset baby.

Rummaging through the boxes in the garage, I found some of my old baby clothes.

Infinitive Phrase

An infinitive consists of the word to plus a verb and acts as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. An infinitive is based on a verb and shows action or a state of being. The difference is that the infinitive may act as an adjective, an adverb, a subject, a direct object, or the subject's complement in a sentence. An infinitive phrase is an infinitive with all of its complements and modifiers.


To ignore the boy seemed wrong since the boy needed help. ("To ignore the boy" is the subject.)

We all wanted to see the parade. (The direct object is "to see the parade.")

Her dream is to play the piano. (The subject's complement is "to play the piano.")

They didn't have the strength to continue running. (The adjective is "to continue running.")

I must practice to win the game. (The adverb is "to win the game.")

When you write infinitives, don't confuse them with prepositional phrases. Infinitives begin with the word to and a verb. Prepositional phrases can begin with the word to, but they are followed by a noun or pronoun and any modifiers.


Infinitives: to walk, to crawl, to be, to draw, to fight, to see, to know

Prepositional Phrases: to her, to the council, to my mother, to the ocean, to you, to this place

Punctuation Note: If the infinitive phase is used as an adverb at the beginning of a sentence, you should use a comma to set it off. Beyond that, no punctuation is needed for an infinitive phrase.


To buy a basketball, Phil had to save all his money.

To improve your playing, you should practice every day.

A clause is a group of words that has a subject and a predicate.

Independent Clause

An independent clause is also known as a main clause. This clause can also be a sentence.


Raven naps.

Raven, my cute black cat, naps in my sock drawer.

Punctuation Note: Use a comma after a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) that joins two independent clauses.

Dependent Clause

This clause has a subject and a predicate, but it cannot stand alone as a sentence. A dependent clause will begin with a word like if, when, that, or unless. These words are called subordinating conjunctions. They make the clause they are added to less important than an independent clause. The dependent clause depends on an independent clause for its meaning.


I will treat myself to something special if I pass my physics test.

After Jake noticed that his fly was down, he turned to zip his pants.

Punctuation Note: If a dependent clause comes at the beginning of the sentence, use a comma after the clause. Do not use a comma if the dependent clause comes at the end of a sentence.

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