A clause is a special type of phrase whose Head is a verb. Clauses can sometimes be complete sentences. Clauses may be main or subordinate.

Traditionally, a clause had to have a finite verb, but most modern grammarians also recognise nonfinite clauses.

  • It was raining. [single-clause sentence]
  • It was raining but we were indoors. [two finite clauses]
  • If you are coming to the party, please let us know. [finite subordinate clause inside a finite main clause]
  • Usha went upstairs to play on her computer. [non-finite clause]

A clause is a structure which typically expresses a situation such as an action, process or state of affairs (declarative clause), but it can also be used to ask a question (interrogative clause) or issue a command (imperative clause). One or more clauses can make up a sentence. For example, He will find them is a main clause which stands alone as a sentence. By contrast, that he will find them is a subordinate clause functioning as a Direct Object within the main clause I know that he will find them.

The National Curriculum defines clauses as "a special type of phrase whose Head is a verb". This idea is similar to regarding a group of words whose pivotal element is a noun as a noun phrase, and a string of words whose main element is an adjective as an adjective phrase.

See also: clause type.


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