What is the difference between a phrase and a sentence?

Anna Bazarova
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What is the difference between a phrase and a sentence?

Syntax is a section of linguistics that studies the connection of words in a phrase and phrases as part of sentences that form a single text.

The basic units of syntax are phrases and sentences.

It happens that people, especially schoolchildren, take the phrase for a sentence or vice versa. Before we understand the fundamental differences between the two syntactic levels, let us define each of the terms and consider the mechanisms of their functioning within the text.


A word combination is a combination of two or more words that have a semantic and grammatical connection. The main and dependent word is the main components of a phrase, a definite syntactic link is established between them:

  • Management - Case questions are asked from the main word to the dependent.
  • contiguity - a combination of words within the meaning, very often with unchangeable parts of speech: adverbial, infinitive.For example, to put it mildly.
  • coordination is a dependent and main word in the same form.

The connection of words in the phrase is determined by case, number and gender.

For example: the phrase "white birch", the main word - birch, dependent - white, type of communication - coordination, in the genus (female), number (single), case (V.p.)

You will learn more about word combinations from our article What is a word combination.


Many linguists attribute a sentence to the basic unit of syntax. The offer is the highest form of text organization.

Signs of the sentence:

  • completeness of thought;
  • intonational completeness - in the end a punctuation mark must be put;
  • the presence of the grammatical basis - the main members of the sentence - subject and predicate;
  • the presence of the grammatical organization of words within a sentence, thanks to which the sentences are divided into simple and complex;
  • has the purpose of saying: narrative, motivating and interrogative;
  • the presence of a syntactic connection in the case of complex sentences: compound, complex, asyndeal.

Differences between sentence and phrase

Based on the characteristics of the two basic units of syntax, we can draw the following conclusions:

  1. A sentence is always a complete thought, as opposed to a phrase, which is only one fragment of a sentence and is not a relatively complete message.
  2. Sentences consist of phrases.
  3. Phrases are never the main members of a sentence!
  4. The sentence as a whole structural center has a grammatical basis, completeness of thought and a semantic load. The phrase does not possess such characteristics.