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Using an academic approach to grammar learning


August 30, 2006|By June Casagrande

And because this is one of the first bits of grammar wisdom offered by "Oxford," that will be our lesson for today.

In grammar terminology, a phrase is a constituent of a sentence that plays a specific role in that sentence — that of noun, verb, adverb, adjective or preposition. In, "Cats don't play fetch," the "cats" is a noun and it's also a noun phrase.

In, "My cat plays fetch," "my cat" is a noun phrase. So basically, the phrase is a part of speech with or without any determiners or modifiers that go with it. A verb phrase might be "fetch," "have fetched," "could have fetched," etc.


A clause, on the other hand, contains both a subject and a verb. In, "I play fetch with Tibor because he insists," one clause is "I play." Another is, "he insists."

In, "leave me alone, Tibor," "leave" is a clause because it's imperative and therefore implies the subject "you" that goes with the verb "leave." And "leave" is also the verb phrase in that sentence.

Now you know the difference between a phrase and a clause. If only it were so easy to teach Tibor the difference between play time and work time.

  • JUNE CASAGRANDE is a freelance writer and author of "Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies." You can reach her at

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