What's in a clause?

Clauses can be made up of 4 types of elements, all of which we'll learn about in this lesson:

  • Subject
  • Verb group
  • Modifiers
  • Objects 

Subject and verb group are pretty easy to understand:

  • subject is typically the person (or thing) doing something in a sentence, what we call the actor of an event.
  • verb group is whatever is being done, what we call the action/process of an event.

Modifiers and objects are little harder to explain, but they will make sense once we look at some examples:

  • Modifiers are usually a kind of descriptive detail— qualities, places, times, and so on—that add extra detail about an event, but they aren't required for an event to make sense.
  • Objects are another kind of descriptive detail—things, qualities, places, and so on— but they are required by an event to make sense.

To give you a quick sense of what we mean, here are the clause elements highlighted in some 'simple sentences' (which are sentences that only have one clause).

As you look at them, try to work out:

  • which elements always appear
  • which only sometimes appear, and
  • what happens if you remove specific elements from a sentence.

Mr Cartright sighed.

Sajid scowled horribly.

In cold winters the Queen does revert to knitted woollen hose for warmth.

On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly in my bed.

Before the war, I found summer storms exciting.

  • All of the snippets have a subject.
  • All have a verb group.
  • Modifiers are more common than objects.
  • If you were to delete a modifier, the sentence would still 'work'.
  • If you were to delete a subject, verb group, or object, then the sentence would 'break'.

Ok, time to take a closer look at each of these elements in turn.