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10.1: Parts of the Sentence

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Lesson Objectives

  • Identify independent and dependent clauses.
  • Identify prepositions and prepositional phrases.
  • Distinguish between participle phrases and gerund phrases.
  • Identify infinitives and infinitive phrases.

The Clause

A clause is any group of words that contains both a subject and a verb. The subject can be a simple noun, a group of words known as a phrase (see below), or another clause. Clauses can be split into two categories: independent and dependent clauses.

Independent Clause

The independent clause can always stand on its own as a complete sentence; it does not rely on other clauses or phrases for its meaning. A sentence may contain more than one independent clause, but each independent clause can always be separated into a separate complete sentence.

Example 1 - Hand me that socket wrench.

Here a single independent clause is used as a complete sentence. The verb in this clause is hand. The subject is the implied pronoun you, which is usually omitted in orders or requests.

Example 2 - Tell my sister that I miss her; tell my brother that it gets much easier.

Here two related independent clauses are joined together with a semicolon to form a compound sentence, which is defined as any sentence that has more than one independent clause.

Example 3 - She is going to be a schoolteacher because she believes education is the most fundamental pillar of the republic.

This sentence is made up of an independent clause and a subordinate (dependent) clause. A sentence with one independent clause and one or more dependent clause is called a complex sentence.

Example 4 - This peach is way beyond ripe, and I refuse to pay for it.

This sentence consists of two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction.

For a definition and complete list of coordinating conjunctions, see Chapter 12, Lesson 1.

Dependent Clause

Like the independent clause, the dependent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb. However, the dependent clause relies on an independent clause to complete its meaning.

Example 1 - If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both.

The first clause is dependent because it begins with “if,” which is classified as a subordinating conjunction. All clauses that begin with subordinating conjunctions are considered dependent. Notice that the dependent clause still contains both a subject and a verb.

Example 2 - Janis spent her vacation in Goa, which is on the west coast of the Indian subcontinent.

Here the dependent clause is being used like one big adjective to modify or describe “Goa.” The dependent clause begins with the relative pronoun “which,” which stands in for “Goa” as the subject of the clause.

Here is a list of common subordinating conjunctions. Remember that any clause beginning with these words is considered dependent and cannot stand on its own as a complete sentence.

After How Till Although
If Unless As Though
Until As if In order that When
As long as Lest Whenever As much as
Now that Where Before Wherever
Since While Because So that

Review Questions

Identify the clause(s) in each example sentence. Mark each clause as either an independent clause (IC) or dependent clause (DC).

  1. There are a thousand little restaurants tucked into the corners, basements, and alleyways of Manhattan, and many of them are worth discovering.
  2. My uncle was not dull: he was uncommonly clever.
  3. If you speak the truth, have a foot in the stirrup.
  4. Take your shoes off before you walk on my new carpet.
  5. Is Jason really moving to Portland to look for a job after he graduates?

The Phrase

A phrase is defined as any word or group of words, excluding clauses, that functions as a unit within a sentence. In other words, a phrase can be any group of words that is missing either a subject or a verb. There are many different types of phrases; here we will outline those more commonly seen in English sentences.

Prepositional Phrase

Any phrase (with a handful of exceptions) that begins with a preposition is considered a prepositional phrase. There are dozens of different prepositions; the following is a list of common prepositions.

Aboard Below In Since About Beneath Into
Through Above Beside Like Throughout Across Between
Near Till After Beyond Of To Against
But Off Toward Along By On Under
Amid Concerning Onto Underneath Among Despite Out
Until Around Down Outside Up As During
Over Upon At Except Past With Atop
For Per Within Before From Regarding Without

Example 1 - After swimming in the ocean, Marco jumped in the pool.

There are three prepositional phrases in this sentence; the second, “in the ocean,” is contained within the first. Remember that a preposition will always be modifying either a noun or a verb. All three, in this case, are adverbial: “after swimming” is describing when Marco jumped, while “in the pool” is describing where.

Example 2 - Our company now imports semiconductors from the Republic of China.

Here is an example of two prepositional phrases acting adjectivally. “From” is telling us the origin of the semiconductors (though, in this case, it could also be functioning adverbially—that is, describing the verb “imports”), while “of” tells us which republic we're talking about.

Participial Phrase

A participle is defined as any verb that ends with -ing or -ed (with regular verbs) and functions as either an adjective or adverb. The participle may also have an object (something receiving the action of the verb) after it, causing it to become a participle phrase.

Example 1 - Skipping along the forested path, the dwarfs whistled in a merry chorus.

Here the participle phrase is modifying the subject “dwarfs.” Notice that you can move the participial phrase to different parts of the sentence. It could go either after the subject or at the end of the sentence.

Example 2 - The kids went bounding down the stairs.

The participial phrase is acting adverbially in this sentence. In other words, the participle is modifying the verb “went.”

Gerund Phrase

The gerund is defined as any -ing verb that functions as a noun. In other words, you can place a gerund phrase in any place in the sentence where a noun could normally function. When the gerund verb has an attendant object or modifiers, we describe it as a gerund phrase.

Example 1 - For thirty years, Marcel has started every morning by swimming around the bay.

This gerund phrase is functioning as the object of the preposition “by.”

Example 2 - Snooping around Facebook is the new way to vet potential employees.

The gerund phrase here is functioning as the subject of the sentence.

Infinitive Phrase

The infinitive is defined as the base (present tense) form of a verb preceded by the word to. An infinitive phrase can function nominally (as a noun), adverbially, or adjectivally.

1. To talk about poll numbers at this stage of the election is simply counterproductive.

The infinitive phrase is functioning as a noun by being the subject of the sentence. Notice that there are two prepositional phrases proceeding the infinitive verb: “about poll numbers” and “at this stage of the election.” Because these phrases are both modifying the infinitive verb, we consider them part of the infinitive phrase.

2. To ensure a full refund, you must also bring your receipt.

The infinitive phrase is functioning as an adverb modifying the main verb “bring.” Notice that when the infinitive is positioned at the beginning of the sentence and is acting as an adverb (not as the subject), we place a comma after it.

3. A fistfight is no way to resolve an argument.

The infinitive phrase is functioning as an adjective modifying the noun “way.”

Review Questions

Underline and identify the participial, prepositional, gerund, or infinitive phrase(s) in each sentence.

  1. On Thursday I drove up north to move a couch for a friend.
  2. If your shoes have a lot of surface area, hiking through a snow drift gets a lot easier.
  3. Already exhausted by the second quarter, we were no match for the division champions.
  4. That award, offered once a year to only one teacher in the entire state, is quite an honor to win.
  5. Hoping against all hope that the balding tires would hold and the rusting fuel pump would continue to work, I loaded up all of the possessions that would fit, discarded the rest in a dumpster behind a truck stop, and set out to cross the country.

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