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Phrases and clauses

A sentence is made up of words put together to do a certain job.

Let's take a look at what those pieces are and how they fit together to make a sentence.


First, we have words. Words are the smallest meaningful bits of sense.

barked / dog / big

A barking dog

Each of these words does a different job.
Barked is a verb - it tells us what happens in a sentence.
Dog is a noun - it names things in a sentence.
Big is an adjective - it gives us more detail about a noun.
We put words together to make a phrase.


A phrase is a short, single piece of information:

the big dog

We use phrases to make a clause.


A clause is a larger word group that includes a little more information. It consists at least two phrases - one is a noun phrase known as the subject, and the other is the verb.

the big dog barked

In this clause, the noun phrase is the big dog and the verb is barked.

This now takes us to the sentence.


If we put a capital letter at the beginning of the clause we've used, and a full stop at the end, we have a sentence.

The big dog barked.

This is a simple sentence. A simple sentence consists of one clause that has a subject and a verb. A simple sentence puts across one simple idea.

Complex sentences

A complex sentence is used to put across more detailed ideas. A complex sentence contains one main clause that can make sense on its own, and one or more minor clauses that are linked to it.

When I arrived the big dog barked.

The main clause is the 'big dog barked' because it has a subject and a verb and makes sense by itself.

The minor clause is 'When I arrived'. Although it is a clause with a subject and a verb, it doesn't make sense on its own, it needs a main clause.

We can add more minor clauses to make a more complex sentence.

When I arrived the big dog barked because it was lonely.

We can even split the main clause with a minor clause and still have a complex sentence.

When I arrived the big dog which was lonely barked.


Sentences activity

Learn more about sentences.


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