Gwynne’s Grammar Tip No 2

29 Sep|N. M. Gwynne

Today Mr Gwynne teaches us the definitions of a sentence, a clause and a phrase.

A sentence is most comprehensively defined as: a word or group of words expressing a complete statement, wish, command or question, whether as a thought, or in speech, or in writing. The written sentence can be defined much more simply, and just as accurately, as: a group of words ending in a full stop, an exclamation mark or a question mark.

Examples illustrating the first definition:

Statement: ‘I love learning about grammar.’ Wish: ‘Long live the Queen!’ Command: ‘Do this homework for tomorrow.’ Question: ‘May I please have some more homework to do?’

A clause is a group of words with a verb in it. It is derived from the past participle, ‘clausus‘, of the Latin ‘claudere‘, meaning ‘to shut’. A clause is an enclosed group of words, complete with its own subject and predicate (both of which are defined almost immediately below).

And while we are about it, a phrase is a group of words without a verb in it. Examples of phrases are ‘in this room’, a group of three words which together can take the place of the adverb ‘here’; and ‘at this time’, which can take true place of ‘now’.

As can be seen from the definitions of ‘clause’ and ‘sentence’ given above, a clause may also be a sentence and a sentence may also be a clause. They need separate definitions, however, because (a) a clause can also be only part of a sentence, and (b) a sentence can consist of several clauses.


Gwynne’s Grammar is published by Ebury Press