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Definition

We need clauses. We need them to express our thoughts, and we need them to express our
feelings. We need them to say things like, 'That lasagna we had last night was delicious' or 'Gary
should join the choir, no matter what his friends say.' We need clauses to express our likes and
dislikes. We need them to say things like 'I love a good curry, especially with coconut milk' or
'Ghost stories are a lot of fun, if you tell them late at night with the lights off.' We need clauses to
express ourselves, and communicate that expression to others.
A clause is a group of related words containing a subject that tells readers what the
sentence is about, and a verb that tells readers what the subject is doing. A clause comes in four
types; independent, dependent, relative or noun clause.

Types of clauses
In English grammar we learn the rules that govern the art of putting words together.
Words are grouped together to express the ideas that we wish to convey to our
audience or our readers.
There are various groups of words that are known by different names. We call them
sentences, clauses, and phrases. Within these groups, there are different kinds of
sentences, clauses, and phrases. Well focus on clauses and consider the different
types of clauses.
A clause is a group of words consisting of a subject and a predicate.
A predicate is the other major part of a sentence (or a clause) after the subject. It
modifies the subject, and it includes the verb, the objects, and any phrases governed
by the verb.
Sometimes, a clause is a sentence. Often, it forms part of a sentence.
Under each of the following subheadings, you will find a sentence or sentences that
will be used to identify the various clauses.

The independent clause, the main clause, the verb clause, and the coordinate
clause
I returned my library book before I could incur a fine, but my sister returned her book
after she received an overdue notification.
The independent clause (a verb clause) can stand on its own as a complete sentence:
I returned my library book
The main clause of this compound-complex sentence is the independent clause:
I returned my library book
The coordinate clause (also a verb clause) is an independent clause that can stand as
the equivalent to the main clause:
my sister returned her book
The coordinating conjunction but alerts us to the presence of a coordinate clause:
but my sister returned her book

The dependent or subordinate clause


I returned my library book before I could incur a fine, but my sister returned her book
after she received an overdue notification.
The dependent clause, also called a subordinate clause, cannot stand on its own.
It is not independent, and it cannot be a main clause. Its function is to modify the
independent clause.
Although it contains a subject and a predicate, it also includes a subordinating word
that makes it necessary for it to be attached to an independent clause to make sense:
before I could incur a fine
after she received an overdue notification

The subordinating conjunctions before and after, in this example, introduce us to the
subordinate clauses. If a clause begins with a subordinating word, it cannot be an
independent clause.
Besides a subordinating conjunction, the other subordinating word that introduces a
subordinate clause is the relative pronoun (that, which, who, whom, whose).
Justin wrote a short story for his friend who was ill in hospital.
Justin wrote a short story for Ryan, who was ill in hospital.
In these two examples, we have the same subordinate clause introduced by the relative
pronounwho: who was ill in hospital.
Later, well use these two sentences again to see the difference between them.

The relative clause and the sentential clause


The relative clause is a subordinate clause that is introduced by a relative pronoun as
demonstrated above in the sentence:
Justin wrote a short story for his friend who was ill in hospital.
A relative clause is certainly a clause. It has a subject and a verb. The subject is the
relative pronoun. In the example, the word who is the subject.
The sentential clause is a relative clause, but its distinction is that it modifies more
than a single word in what precedes it. In the above example, the relative clause
modifies friend. It reveals which friend.
The sentential clause will modify more than that:
Our neighbor did not seem to care that his wife was left completely alone while he
enjoyed the company of his friends, which really annoyed us.
The sentential clause is which really annoyed us.
What does it modify? Ask the question: What really annoyed you? Answer: The fact
that our neighbor did not seem to care that his wife was left completely alone while he
enjoyed the company of his friends.

In this instance, the sentential clause modifies all that precedes it, not merely a single
word. It is sentential. It relates to a sentence.

The restrictive or essential or defining clause


Justin wrote a short story for his friend who was ill in hospital.
For which friend did Justin write a short story? He wrote it for his friend who was ill
in hospital. This relative clause is essential. It defines which friend. It is restrictive and
specific: it was for this friend and no other.
Where the information provided by the relative clause is essential, no punctuation
must be used to separate it from its referent.
If a restrictive clause occurs in the middle of a sentence, no punctuation must be used:
After reading the short story, Justins friend who was ill in hospital asked him to write
another.

The nonrestrictive or nonessential or non-defining clause


Justin wrote a short story for Ryan, who was ill in hospital.
For whom did Justin write a short story? He wrote it for Ryan, so the recipient is
identified immediately, and no further information is necessary to identify or define
him. Whatever is added herethat he was ill in hospitalis not essential.
Where the information provided by the relative clause is nonessential, punctuation
must be used to separate it from its referent. It shows that if it is lopped off at the
comma, it will not change the fact that the short story was written for Ryan.
If a nonrestrictive clause occurs in the middle of a sentence, two commas must be
usedone before and one after the clause:
After reading the short story, Ryan, who was ill in hospital, asked Justin to write
another.

The elliptical clause


Elliptical clauses omit words that are obvious to the reader from the context. It is clear
what the missing words are, and they have not been left out in error.
Independent clauses and subordinate clauses may be written elliptically.
Emma had dropped six stitches; Heather, two.
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The verb had dropped was omitted in the second independent clause, but the meaning
is obvious. The second clause is an elliptical clause.
The following example has an elliptical subordinate clause. The missing words are
italicized in the repetition below.
Although sometimes nervous about knitting, Emma produced work that won prizes.
Although she was sometimes nervous about knitting, Emma produced work that won
prizes.

The noun clause


Noun clauses are subordinate clauses. They are introduced by subordinating
conjunctions (if,that, whether, whoever, wherever, whenever, etc.)
Noun clauses function as
1.
subjects;
2.

subject complements;

3.

direct objects;

4.

object complements;

5.

indirect objects;

6.

appositives;

7.

prepositional complements;

8.

adjectival phrase complements.

Here are examples showing each of these functions:


1.
What Justin did with his writing pleased his teacher. (noun clause as subject);
2.

3.

Emmas problem was that she doubted her abilities. (as subject complement or
predicate nominative);
Ryan did not know that Justin was a good writer. (as direct object);

4.

Justin considers his greatest challenge that a blank page terrifies him. (as object
complement);

5.

Have you given how you want to propose to Heather any thought? (as indirect
object);

6.

The problem, that you dont know how to propose to Heather, is affecting you.
(as appositive);

7.

Emma is thinking about what the judges said of her work. (as prepositional
complement or object of a preposition);
6

8.

Heather is sad that Ryan does not know how to propose to her. (as adjectival
phrase complement)

The adjective clause or adjectival clause


If you remember that the function of an adjective is to modify a noun (or a
pronoun), you should easily identify an adjectival clause.
You will find that it is a dependent clause that is modifying a noun.
It is also called a relative clause, and we have already considered this under the
subheading The relative clause and the sentential clause in Part One of this article.
A few more examples of the adjectival clause will help you to see how it functions:
The superstore that marked down its prices lost many of its customers.
9.

(The italicized adjectival clause is modifying the noun superstore.)

10.

My sister, who is studying journalism in college, struggled with writing in high


school. (modifying the noun sister)

11.

Washington, D. C., which was not the first capital of the United States, has
been the seat of Congress for more than two hundred years. (modifying
Washington, D.C.)

12.

The adverb clause or adverbial clause

13.

The function of an adverb is to modify a verb or an adjective or another adverb.


An adverbial clause functions as an adverb.

14.

If you remember this, you will easily identify an adverbial clause, especially as
you find it modifying a verb in the main clause of a sentence.

15.

Here are examples of the different kinds of adverbial clauses:

16.

Adverbial clause of time

17.

You may play computer games when you have finished your assignment.
(adverbial clause of time modifying the verb play in the main clause; some
other subordinating conjunctions introducing adverbial clauses of time
are before, after, while, since, whenever, as);
7

18.

Adverbial clause of place

19.

Justin put the story where Ryan could find it. (adverbial clause of place
modifying the verb putin the main clause; wherever is another subordinating
conjunction introducing adverbial clauses of place);

20.

Adverbial clause of purpose

21.

Justin outlined his story beforehand so that he could write it more easily.
(adverbial clause of purpose modifying the verb outlined in the main clause; so
that and in order that introduce adverbial clauses of purpose);

22.

Adverbial clause of result or consequence

23.

In the following example, note that adverbial clauses of result or consequence


are also introduced by so that. Often, the main clause
contains so or such followed by that in the subordinate clause;

24.

A strong wind raged through the valley so that the fire became difficult to
control. (adverbial clause of result or consequence modifying the verb raged in
the main clause);

25.

Emma is such a modest girl that she will not boast of her abilities. (adverbial
clause of result or consequence modifying the adjective modest in the main
clause);

26.

Adverbial clause of cause or reason

27.

Since he was so unsure of how to do it, Ryan deferred proposing to Heather.


(adverbial clause of cause or reason modifying the verb deferred in the main
clause; some other subordinating conjunctions introducing adverbial clauses of
cause or reason are because, that, and as);

28.

Adverbial clause of condition

29.

If the wind blows too strongly, it will not be safe on the lake. (adverbial clause
of condition modifying the [adverb] adjective [not] safe in the main clause;
some other subordinating conjunctions introducing adverbial clauses of
condition are whether and unless);

30.

Adverbial clause of comparison of degree

31.

For Heather, it was later than Ryan had thought. (adverbial clause of
comparison of degree modifying the adjective later in the main clause);

32.

Adverbial clause of comparison of manner

33.

The engagement celebration ended as we expected. (adverbial clause of


comparison of manner modifying the verb ended in the main clause);

34.

Adverbial clause of supposition or concession

35.

Although he had feared to do it, Ryan finally proposed to Heather. (adverbial


clause of supposition or concession modifying the verb proposed in the main
clause; other subordinating conjunctions introducing adverbial clauses of
supposition or concession are though and even if).

36.

This is not a complete list of terms used for adverbial clauses.

Identifying clauses