As was mentioned in the introduction to this section, phrases are not clauses in that they do not contain a subject and a verb. However, there are phrases in English that are in fact clauses that have had the subject and verb removed, leaving in their place a phrase that implies the clause that was there before.
Though this might sound confusing, it doesn’t need to be. Once you understand the elemental structure of a sentence and know where its components ought to be, the phrases we are discussing here will be more evident.
We’ll begin with reduced clauses and appositives. These are dependent clauses that have simply had the clause marker and/or the subject and verb (be verb) removed and nothing else changed. Generally speaking, the reason we can omit a subject and verb from a clause is that these are obvious in their context. In other words, the subject and verb are clearly understood without having to be mentioned.
We’ll begin with clauses that can be reduced, yet remain clauses (with a subject and a verb), that is, they do not become phrases. We simply remove the that pronoun.
Ex: Dmitry wanted to work for the same company his brother worked for.
In this sentence we still have a clause (adjective clause) to identify the company (that his brother worked for.) This is the simplest reduction of a clause, although it is not a phrase. that he worked for is reduced to he worked for, leaving the subject and verb in place. In cases of noun or adjective clauses that begin with that in the position of introduction (noun clause) or object (adjective clause) of the clause (i.e., they have a subject other than the clause conjunction), we can omit the that.
The same is true of clauses that begin with whom:
I’m sorry. The person you are looking for no longer works here. – the person whom you are looking for.
The clause markers when and where can never be subjects of their respective clauses, which suggests that they can often be omitted (when they are used as identifying adjective clauses):
Ex: In many families, Christmas is the only time of year (when) cousins meet each other.
Other than zoos, Antarctica is the only place in the world (where) you can see Emperor Penguins.
Should you always remove that when there is a subject in the clause? No. Sometimes you want to stress the clause and keeping that helps do this:
Ex: Kaitlyn wanted to show Michael she loved him.
Kaitlyn wanted to show Michael that she loved him. – This sentence emphasizes the idea that she loves him. This (noun) clause acts as object to the verb to show.
Also: If a clause is far removed from its independent clause, it is better not to remove the clause marker:
Ex: John wanted everyone to know, including the guys down in the mailroom who always get the news last, that he would do his best to make sure (that) they all got a raise by the end of the year. (Notice the underlined that. We technically can remove it, though it is not recommended; some readers may lose the connection of this noun clause as object to to know...; the second that (removed) is a complement to make sure.)
In a list: if you are listing clauses, make sure the last one reintroduces the clause marker, to remind the reader that the parallel structure is that of noun clauses:
Ex: Based on our research, we have come to the conclusion that the implementation of the committee’s recommendations were poorly overseen, the staff members most affected by these changes were ill-equipped to deal with them, and that responsibility lies strictly with upper management. (Again, the last that can be omitted, but we recommend keeping it.)
Looking at the above sentence, notice that when we add a noun clause as a complement to a noun, we do not omit the that (Based on our research, we have come to the conclusion— this is a complete sentence, grammatically. In terms of meaning, however, we need more information to complete the idea of conclusion. In this case, that acts as an introduction to the clause (see more about this in the noun clauses section).
In cases where the meaning can be confused:
Ex: The boss suggested his staff should work extra hours to make up for the delays in production.
The boss suggested that his staff should work extra hours to make up for the delays in production.
In the first sentence, a quick look might cause a reader to think that his staff is the object of suggested, when in fact the correct object is the idea of what the staff should do. In other words, suggested what?
Reduced relative clauses to phrases
We can reduce a relative clause (adjective clause) to a phrase by removing the subject pronoun of the clause and its verb. We can only so this when the verb is a be verb:
Ex: The box that is under my desk should be moved to the storage area.
The box under my desk should be moved to the storage area.
We can remove the subject and verb when they are clearly understood. What we are left with, in this example, is a prepositional phrase acting as an adjective to the noun box.
We can also do this when the word following the be verb in the relative clause is an adjective. However, if the only word that follows the be verb in the relative clause is a simple adjective or a past participle, we would need to move it to the normal adjective position, which is before the noun being modified:
Ex: The window that is broken needs to be replaced.
The broken window needs to be replaced. – that is is removed, leaving only the single-word adjective broken. Thus, as a one-word adjective, it now needs to be positioned before the noun it modifies, just as you would do with a regular adjective.
The window, which is broken, needs to be replaced.
The broken window needs to be replaced.
Reducing a relative clause to a phrase does not depend on whether the clause is an identifying one or a modifying one. What is important is that the clause contains a relative pronoun that is also the subject of the clause, and a be verb.
When the relative clause contains an –ing verb + a phrase, or if it contains an –ed verb or irregular verb in the past participle form + a phrase, we can remove the relative pronoun and be verb and keep the participles:
Ex: The company, which was bought out by a larger corporation, is now run by experienced managers.
The company, bought out by a larger corporation, is now run by experienced managers.
The suspect who is being interrogated by the police claims (that) he was nowhere near the crime scene.
The suspect being interrogated by the police claims he was nowhere near the crime scene.
These examples are called participial adjectives because they contain participles (-ing form of a verb, or –ed form of a verb, or irregular form of a verb in p.p.). Present participles are active, and use the -ing form. Past participles are passive and use the –ed or irregular forms of the verb.
Participial phrases will be looked at in more depth in the next section.
Appositives are reduced adjective clauses that are used as phrases to add “extra” information to a sentence, without disturbing its overall flow. They are also commonly used to define a term in the sentence. What this means is that instead of breaking the flow of a sentence by introducing the meaning of a term within it, we can provide that definition as a short “aside” that will allow the reader to understand the meaning of the term without removing him or her from the main idea of the sentence.
Keep in mind that an appositive does not identify a noun, but defines it, or expands on it. Appositives look the same as reduced clauses, yet their function is slightly different.
Consider the following:
Ex: AIDS has killed hundreds of thousands of people all across the globe. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. It is called the “global killer”. AIDS is brought on by the HIV virus, which attacks a person’s central nervous system and degrades it to the point of extreme vulnerability. (49 words)
Now look at the same information provided with the use of appositives:
AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or the “global killer”, has killed hundreds of thousands of people all across the globe. It is brought on by the HIV virus, which attacks a person’s central nervous system and degrades it to the point of extreme vulnerability. (44 words)
We have two appositives here, both acting in a similar fashion. The first is the expansion of the AIDS acronym into its individual components. The second is an alternative designation, or a renaming of the same noun. When we begin an appositive with or, we are not reducing a clause but simply providing another way of saying the same thing. The passage is now shorter and tighter and easier for the reader to digest.
It is important to realize that appositives are always placed between commas, regardless if the original adjective clause was an identifying one or a modifying one.
Some more examples of appositives:
Ex: The Make-a-Wish foundation, a non-profit charity that helps terminally ill children realize a favourite dream, is funded solely by donations made by the general public.
Frank’s best man, Will, will meet Frank’s fiancé, Kat, for the first time at the wedding.
Notice that an appositive can be a single word. (…, who is Will,; …, who is Kat,)
Reginald Kenneth Dwight, or Elton John as he is commonly known, became famous with the success of his hit song, “Your Song”.
Rapid eye movement, or REM, is a stage of sleep in which a person’s eyes exhibit rapid and random movements.
One last note: It is quite common to see a reduced clause within another reduced clause:
Ex: October 25th, 1999, the day my little Anna was born, was the happiest day of my life.
Extended: October 25th, 1999, which was the day when/on which my little Anna was born, was the happiest day of my life (adjective clause to modify the specific date, and another to modify the noun day).