Grammar Tips: Independent and Dependent Clauses
  • 4-minute read
  • 19th April 2019

Grammar Tips: Independent and Dependent Clauses

Independent and dependent clauses are fundamental parts of writing. But what are these clauses? How do they differ? And how do you use them? In this post, we look the basics of independent and dependent clauses.

What Is a Clause?

A “clause” is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. This could be a sentence, part of a sentence, or even a sentence fragment.

Every sentence will include at least one clause, but you can also combine independent and dependent clauses. We will look at how this works below.

Independent Clauses

An independent clause is also known as a “main clause.” A clause is independent if it works as a sentence by itself. We can make an independent clause with just a noun and a verb:

Noun (Subject) Verb (Predicate)
Dogs… …bark.

Here, we have a noun (dogs) as the subject of the clause and a verb (bark) as the predicate. And this works as a standalone sentence because it expresses a complete thought (the thought of dogs barking).

We can also combine two (or more) independent clauses in a single sentence. To do this, we would use a coordinating conjunction between the clauses:

Clause 1 Conjunction Clause 2
Dogs bark… …and… …cats meow.

Here, then, we have multiple independent clauses in one sentence. But these clauses are still “independent” because we could write either one by itself:

Dogs bark. Cats meow.

Dependent Clauses

A dependent clause, also known as a “subordinate clause,” adds extra information to a sentence. It cannot, however, work as a sentence by itself. Take the following complex sentence, for example:

Independent Clause

Dependent Clause

My dog barks…

…when he sees a cat.

The second clause above is “subordinate” because it “depends” on the main clause to make sense. We can see this if we write each clause separately:

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Independent Clause: My dog barks.

Dependent Clause: When he sees a cat.

In other words, “when he sees a cat” does not make sense by itself. But as part of a sentence, it tells us something about the main clause. All dependent clauses add information like this, but they can function in different ways:

  • Adverbial clauses tell us something about how a main clause occurs. For example, “when he sees a cat” tells us something about the situation in which “my dog” barks.
  • Adjectival clauses modify a noun or noun phrase in a sentence. For instance, we could say “Dogs that bark at cats should be kept indoors.” In this sentence, “that bark at cats” is an adjectival clause because it tells us what type of dog the sentence is about.
  • Nominal clauses (or noun clauses) function like a noun. For instance, we could say, “My dog goes wherever I go.” The nominal clause here is “wherever I go,” which is the object of the verb “go” in the main clause.

However, one thing all dependent clauses have in common is that they only make sense when attached to a main clause.

Summary: Independent and Dependent Clauses

A “clause” is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb. Two of the most important types of clause are “independent” and “dependent” clauses:

  • An independent clause (or main clause) expresses a complete thought. It can be a sentence by itself, but it may also be part of a longer sentence.
  • A dependent clause (or subordinate clause) is part of a sentence that contains a subject and a verb but does not express a complete thought.

The key is to remember that only independent clauses work by themselves. If you use a dependent clause by itself, you will end up with a sentence fragment. And to make sure your written work is free from grammatical errors, don’t forget to have it proofread.

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