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Author: John Reid

I'm a writer and native speaker of English with bits and pieces of other languages learned by living, working, travelling, and studying around the world. I am currently living in Canberra, Australia. I have some academic training in linguistics, some experience as a teacher and editor, and a deep, abiding passion for puns.

Clauses in English: Meaning and usage with examples

When learning or teaching English, we often hear about ‘clauses’. But what is a clause? Is a clause a sentence? In this post, perhaps a little ambitiously, I’m going to try to give you an outline and examples of common types of clauses that you might encounter in English, and give you an idea of how to understand and use them. I say ambitious, because there are lots of different kinds of clauses, used in lots of different ways, and there’s no way a simple summary could hope to capture them all. The topics that I’ll try to cover in this post are:

Simple clauses

The simplest clauses are the same as the simplest sentences. These are most often a series of words that follow the pattern subject-verb-object or just subject-verb.

Flotsam and Jetsam: Meaning, origin, and examples

Most English speakers have heard the idiom flotsam and jetsam to describe a discarded or eclectic collection of objects. It makes us imagine jumbled, broken, or useless objects, unwanted and left behind. However, few know the meaning and origin of these interesting words.

Definitions of flotsam and jetsam

Flotsam and jetsam are nautical terms, and like their current inseparability, they came into English at roughly the same time. They describe things you might find floating on the surface of the water when a ship has been in trouble. Flotsam (ˈflɒtsəm) is what is left floating at the top of the water or washed ashore when a ship sinks; jetsam (ˈdʒɛtsəm) is anything that sailors throw overboard (jettison), either as rubbish or in their attempts to stay afloat when sinking. Flotsam can also be used more generally to describe anything floating on water or washed up on shore, especially garbage, even though these items are unlikely to be the result of a shipwreck. Similarly, jetsam might describe anything discarded or unwanted, although its usage alone is very rare. Both are used metaphorically to describe discarded and unwanted objects. I’ll show you some usage examples below.

Noun Phrases: Meaning and usage with examples

Most people who have studied English in school can identify a few basic parts of speech. Most English speakers could point out the nouns, verbs, adjectives, articles, prepositions, conjunctions, or pronouns, for example, though they may struggle with some ideas like the subject or object of a sentence, or whether a verb is transitive or intransitive. Few will have heard of noun phrases.

These word categories are important in understanding how sentences work, but knowing only them is like trying to understand how the human body works by just memorising the names of bones. It’s a start, but it’s not the whole picture.

This post is the first in a series where I explore some of the fundamental ideas in English grammar. I want this to be useful to people who’ve spoken English their whole lives as well as English language learners, so I’m not going to assume much knowledge.