Understanding clauses

All about clauses

Verb groups

A clause is defined as consisting of a subject and a verb group. They can have other things, but at a minimum, they should have those two things.

Here is a simple sentence with the simplest possible clause structure—a subject and a verb group, nothing else:

Mr Cartright sighed.

Flour BabiesAnne FineSource

Remember how we said earlier that one clause was 'one event'?

That means a clause can only have 1 verb group.

1 verb group = 1 event = 1 clause

So, a quick way to figure out how many clauses are in a sentence is to count the verb groups.

How many clauses in each of these sentences?

Paul thought he should run to the door.

The Old, Dead NuisanceM.T. AndersonSource

2 verb groups = 2 clauses.

I could see he was alive even though he made no sign or movement.

Unbelievable!Paul JenningsSource
Watch out for 'being' verbs!

He'd been sent there for being a nuisance in Assembly.

Flour BabiesAnne FineSource

My eyes are black and I can make them go all wicked and witchy.

The Story of Tracy BeakerJacqueline WilsonSource
Why isn't "can make them go" all one event?

The pictures on the starboard side, from being no longer vertical, were clinging to the paper, whilst those of the port side were hanging at least a foot from the wall.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the SeaJules VerneSource

It was me who stood up during a Year Nine interschool debate and told the audience that my team didn't appreciate the other team's whispers about competing against "terrorists".

Does My Head Look Big in This?Randa Abdel-FattahSource

Each of the sentences above has 2-5 verb groups.

That means they must, by definition, have 2-5 clauses (matching the number of verb groups).

You don't need to look at anything else in these sentences to establish that number of clauses—just find the verb groups!

Paste this snippet into the textbox below and highlight all the verb groups. How many clauses does it have?

Lyra crossed the bridge and continued on the muddy path between water meadows, and came to the canal, where a line of boats was moored, some with smoke coming out of their tin chimneys, one with a dog that barked furiously until she came closer, when it must have sensed something wrong.

Snippet source: The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman.

Your turn
The answers

What about the other compulsory element: the subject.

Does the same rule apply to subjects?

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