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Phrases and Clauses

Could someone explain the difference between a phrase ( doesn't contain a verb and subject?) and a clause ( contains a tensed verb and a subject?).

When do phrases end and begin? I can't for the life of me figure this out.

Example: the sentence contains marking for Prepositional phrase=PP, RRC= restrive relative clause, & an Appostive


Hillary Clinton went through 15 years [of this stuff]-PP [before becoming, [under Obama]-PP, [the woman everyone loves]-Appositive, a woman [whom Chris Cillizza just dubbed "the new Teflon Clinton."]-RRC]-PP


I don't understand why before becoming is a large prepositional phrase compared to the other markings.
I took out the markings to show that the entire sentence is marked as a prepositional phrase.

[before becoming, under Obama, the woman everyone loves, a woman whom Chris Cillizza just dubbed "the new Teflon Clinton."]-PP

Re: Phrases and Clauses

First, a definition: a clause is defined as a construction which has a subject-predicate structure, as in "Ed kicked the cat", where the noun "Ed" is the subject and the verb phrase "kicked the cat" is the predicate (what is said about the subject).

But a clause doesn't need a tensed verb. It may contain a tensed verb (called a finite clause), as in the example above or it may contain an untensed verb (called a non-finite clause), as in "Kicking the cat, Ed ran out". The untensed "Kicking the cat" is just as much a clause as the tensed "Ed kicked the cat".

Most non-finite clauses have no overt subject, but in a sense we understand them as having subjects. For instance, in "Ed promised to resign from the board", the underlined non-finite subordinate clause has no subject, but we can identify the 'understood' subject simply by looking at the surrounding text. It’s clear that "Ed" is the subject of "promised" and logically "Ed" is also the understood subject of "resign" in the subordinate clause.

A phrase always has a 'head' word -- the most important word in the phrase -- around which may cluster other related words or phrases called 'dependents'. For example, the NP (noun phrase) "a big red car" has the noun "car" as head and "a", "big" and "red" as dependents. Similarly in the PP "in my large garden", the head is the prep "in" and the NP "my large garden" is a dependent. Notice that the head word determines the kind of phrase: a PP has a preposition as head, an NP has a noun as head, an AdjP has an adjective, and so on.

Now let’s look at the PP in your example:

"before becoming, under Obama, the woman everyone loves, a woman whom Chris Cillizza just dubbed "the new Teflon Clinton".

This is a PP headed by the preposition "before". Prepositions require complements – something to complete their meaning – and the long sequence commencing with "becoming" is a non-finite (untensed) clause functioning as that complement; it's a dependent of the head word "before". The fact that the complement contains several phrases of its own is irrelevant – the before phrase is still just one PP.

The PP, "under Obama" is just an optional interpolation. If we drop it, things become clearer:

"before becoming the woman everyone loves, a woman whom Chris Cillizza just dubbed "the new Teflon Clinton".

Now we can see that the core PP is "before becoming the woman" -- that is logical and clear. But it makes little sense, so the writer has included some more information about Clinton by first adding the relative clause "everyone loves", to give:

"before becoming the woman [everyone loves]"

The writer then adds some more information by adding a 'supplement' about Clinton in the form of an appositive NP to give the even larger PP:

"before becoming the woman everyone loves, [a woman whom Chris Cillizza just dubbed 'the new Teflon Clinton"]'.

The supplementary appositive NP contains the relative clause "whom Chris Cillizza just dubbed "the new Teflon Clinton", which is a dependent of "woman":

"before becoming the woman everyone loves, a woman [whom Chris Cillizza just dubbed 'the new Teflon Clinton"]'.


Your example is thus a construction containing a long PP that has an embedded dependent and a supplement in the form of two NPs, each of which has its own embedded dependent in the form of a relative clause.

Have I explained that clearly enough?


PaulM