Skip over navigation

ARCHIVED SAMPLE - course no longer available


Grammar and StructureGRAMMAR & STRUCTURE
Independent and Dependent Clauses



A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb. There are two kinds of clauses:

  1. An independent clause is a complete thought, a sentence. It has the main subject and verb of a sentence. (It is also called a main clause.)

  2. A dependent clause is NOT a complete thought and is not a sentence. The dependent clause gives incomplete information. It must be linked to an independent clause. (It is also called a subordinate clause.)


When do the students listen? Independent clause
Sentence — Question
The students listen. Independent clause
Sentence — Statement
when the teacher talks Dependent clause
NOT a sentence
The students listen when the teacher talks. Complex sentence with independent clause and dependent clause


There are three types of dependent clauses:

Adverb clause - This type of dependent clause modifies or describes a verb, adjective, or adverb in the independent clause. Adverb clauses are introduced by a subordinate conjunction (a kind of linking word).
For example: When it rains, I wear my hat.

Adjective clause - This type of dependent clause modifies or describes a noun or a pronoun in the independent clause. Relative pronouns ("who", "whose", "whom", "which", and "that") introduce adjective clauses.
For example: The book that I read last week wasn't very good.

Noun clause - This type of dependent clause is used as the subject or the direct object of a verb. It is used the same way a noun is used. Noun clauses are introduced by the following words: "who", "whose", "whom", "what", "where", "which", "when", "why", "how", "that", "if", and "whether".
For example: The tour guide asked who wanted to go to the restaurant.

A dependent clause:

  • cannot be written as a complete sentence.
  • can be placed at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of an independent clause.
  • can use a simplified tense when the independent clause clearly shows the time. For example, a dependent clause often uses the present tense instead of will + infinitive when the independent clause uses the future tense.
  • usually does NOT omit a repeated subject.
  • is followed by a comma when it comes before the independent clause.

Related Sections

Adjective Clauses
Adverb Clauses
Complex Sentences
Common Linking Words and Their Uses
Noun Clauses
Commonly Used Punctuation
Sentence Errors — Run-on Sentences: Part 1
Sentence Errors — Run-on Sentences: Part 2
Sentence Errors — Fragments