Beyond Words: Understanding Sentences, Phrases, and Clauses

Language can seem like a gigantic puzzle, but it’s actually made up of smaller pieces. Think of it like building with blocks. In this blog, we’re going to learn about these important building blocks of language – understanding sentences. We’ll start with the parts of speech. But we won’t stop there; we’ll also look at other important parts of sentences and how they fit together.

Join us to learn how words and sentences work together to create language, whether you are already skilled with words or just starting out! Let’s begin!

When we analyze a sentence, we can see that each word has a specific role to play in conveying meaning.

♦ Savage beasts roamed through the forest.

In this sentence
beasts and forest are the names of objects
roamed asserts action, telling us what the beasts did
savage describes the beasts
through shows the relation in thought between forest and roamed
the limits the meaning of forest, showing we mean one particular forest

In this example, each of these words has its special job (or function) in the sentence which we call parts of speech.

Parts of Speech

When you’re using words in a sentence, they’re put into eight groups called parts of speech. These groups are nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.


Nouns are words that name people, places, things, or ideas. They serve as the building blocks of sentences, acting as subjects, objects, and more.

♦ person, box, Pittsburgh, Harry, silence, justice.

Writers Work - Get Paid to Write


Pronouns are words that replace nouns to avoid repetition. They help make sentences less repetitive and more concise.

♦ I, he, she, it, that, them, them

Words that stand for people or things are called Substantives.


Adjectives are words that describe or modify nouns. They provide details about the noun’s characteristics, such as its colour, size, or shape, to make descriptions more vivid.

♦ as, good, blue, five, tall, many.

Those tiny words a, an, and the modify nouns or pronouns. They’re actually adjectives, but we usually call them articles.


Verbs are action words that express actions, states, or occurrences. They are the engine of sentences, driving the action and showing what the subject is doing or experiencing.

 ♦ do, see, think, make, run, hop, fall


Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They answer questions like “how,” “when,” “where,” or “to what extent,” adding information about the action or description.

 ♦ very, slowly, clearly, often.


Prepositions are words that show the relationship between nouns (or pronouns) and other words in a sentence. They show location, direction, time, and more.

 ♦ in, on, under, between, by, in, beyond.


Conjunctions are words that connect words, phrases, or clauses in a sentence. Coordinating conjunctions, such as “and” and “but,” join similar elements. Subordinating conjunctions, like “if” and “because,” connect dependent and independent clauses.

 ♦ and, but, if, although, or


Short and expressive words or phrases are known as interjections. They’re frequently used to communicate powerful emotions like surprise, joy, or frustration. It’s common for them to be independent and end with exclamation points.

 ♦ Wow! Ouch! Oh! Alas! Hurrah! Bah!

What is an Expletive

Sometimes a word doesn’t really mean anything, but helps the sentence sound better and changes how it’s written. That word is an Expletive.

♦ There are no such books in print. (there is an expletive)

So now we know that words have jobs, but they need to be assembled properly in order to create sentences. We will dive deeper into each of these parts of speech more thoroughly in future blogs.

So what’s next?

Subordinate elements, complements, phrases and clauses.

What are Subordinate Elements?

Subordinate elements, which are also known as dependent clauses or subordinate clauses, need a main clause to be a complete thought. Subordinate elements typically provide additional information, context, or conditions for the main clause.

Types of Subordinate Elements

The subordinate elements include:

Adjective Clauses

These subordinate elements function as adjectives to modify nouns in the main clause. They often begin with relative pronouns like “who,” “which,” or “that.

♦ The book that you recommended is excellent.

Adverbial Clauses

These subordinate elements function as adverbs to change verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs in the main clause. They often answer questions like when, where, why, or how. 

♦ She studied hard because she wanted to pass the exam.

Noun Clauses

These subordinate elements function as nouns within the main clause. They often serve as subjects, objects, or complements in the sentence.

♦ What you said surprised me. (Noun clause as the subject)
♦ I don’t know where he went. (Noun clause as the object)

Relative Clauses

These are a type of adjective clause that provides additional information about a noun in the main clause. They usually begin with relative pronouns like “who,” “which,” or “whose.”

♦ The car that is parked outside belongs to John

Conditional Clauses

These clauses express conditions or hypothetical situations and often begin with words like “if,” “unless,” or “provided that.”

♦ If it rains tomorrow, we’ll stay indoors.

Purpose Clauses

These clauses show the purpose or reason behind an action and often begin with words like “so that,” “in order that,” or “to.”

♦ He worked hard so that he could earn a promotion.

Time Clauses

These clauses provide information about the timing of the action in the main clause and often begin with time-related words like “when,” “while,” or “after.”

♦ I’ll call you when I get home.

Subordinate elements enrich sentence structure by offering supplementary information, context, or conditions. Their use is crucial in constructing complex and varied sentences in writing.


Some verbs, to complete their sense, need to be followed by some other word or group of words. These words which “complement,” or complete the meanings of verbs are called Complements. Included are the Attribute Complement, Object Complement, Adjective Modifier, and Adverbial Modifier.

The Attribute Complement

The Attribute Complement gives more information about the subject by completing the meaning of the verb. It often describes or renames the subject.

♦ My friend is a student.
♦ I am well.
♦ The dog is good.
♦ The flowers smell sweet.

Student, well, good, and sweet complete the meanings of their respective verbs; by stating some class, condition, or attribute of the subjects of the verbs.

In the sentence “She is a talented musician,” “a talented musician” is the attribute complement because it describes the subject “She.”

The attribute complement usually follows the verb be or its forms, is, are, was, will be, etc. It is usually a noun, pronoun, or adjective, although it may be a phrase or clause fulfilling the function of these parts of speech.

The verb that links the subject to its attribute is referred to as the Copula or Copulative Verb.

Object Complement

Some verbs require an object to complete their meaning called the Object Complement. An object complement is a word or group of words that directly follows and changes the direct object of a verb. It provides additional information about the direct object.

In the sentence
♦ I carry a book,
♦ I hold the horse
♦ I touch a desk

The objects, book, horse and desk are necessary to complete the meanings of their respective verbs. These verbs that require objects to complete their meaning are called Transitive Verbs.

In “She considered him a hero,” “a hero” is the object complement because it further describes the direct object “him.

Object complements can be nouns, pronouns, adjectives, or phrases that provide details or rename the direct object.

In “They painted the room a bright yellow,” “a bright yellow” is the object complement, specifying the colour of the room.

Adjective Modifier

An adjective modifier is a word or phrase that describes or provides more information about a noun. It usually appears before or after the noun it modifies.

In “The tall tower stood against the skyline,” “tall” is the adjective modifier, giving more detail about the noun “tower.”

Adjective modifiers help make sentences more descriptive and precise by adding characteristics or qualities to nouns.

In “The mysterious forest was dense with ancient trees,” “mysterious” and “ancient” are adjective modifiers, enhancing the description of the forest.

Adverbial Modifier

An adverbial modifier is a word (or group of words) that modifies a verb, adjective, or adverb. It provides information about how, when, where, or to what degree an action occurs.

In “She sang beautifully in the concert hall,” “beautifully” is the adverbial modifier, describing how she sang.

Adverbial modifiers answer questions like when, where, why, or how an action takes place, adding depth to sentences.

In “He ran quickly to catch the bus,” “quickly” is the adverbial modifier, indicating how he ran to catch the bus.

Phrases and Clauses

We can use adjectives and adverbs alone or with phrases and clauses to change things.


A Phrase is a group of words that is used as a single part of speech and that does not contain a subject and a predicate.

Prepositional Phrase

The prepositional phrase uses an adjective or adverbial modifier. It includes a preposition, its object, and the object’s modifiers.

♦ He lives in Pittsburgh,
♦ Mr. Ng is the manager of the factory.
♦ The letter is in the nearest desk.

Verb Phrase

A Verb-phrase is a phrase that serves as a verb.

♦ She is singing.
♦ They will eat lunch.
♦ He has played soccer.


A Clause is a group of words containing a subject and a predicate.

♦ The man that I saw was tall.

The clause, that I saw, contains both a subject, I, and a predicate, saw. This clause, since it merely states something of minor importance in the sentence, is called the Subordinate Clause.

The Principal Clause, the one making the most important assertion, is, The man was tall.

We may use clauses as adjectives, as adverbs, and as nouns. A clause used as a noun is called a Substantive Clause.

♦ Adjective Clause: The book that I want is a history.
♦ Adverbial Clause: He came when he had finished with the work.
♦ Noun Clause as subject: That I am here is true.
♦ Noun Clause as object: He said that I was mistaken.

Last Words on Understanding Sentences

Understanding parts of speech, recognizing subordinate elements, identifying complements, and effectively using phrases and clauses are crucial skills for improving your writing. Keep practicing, keep learning, and keep discovering all the amazing ways you can use words. Thanks for joining us on this learning adventure!

Happy writing!



Feature Image by Dorothe from Pixabay.



The links below are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you.

Publisher Rocket


You May Also Like…

Mastering Verb Moods

Mastering Verb Moods

Have you ever thought about how the mood of a verb can completely alter a sentence’s vibe? It’s all in the details!...

Verb Tenses Demystified

Verb Tenses Demystified

Knowing verb tense well is super important for writing clearly. Tense shows the timing of an action, whether it...