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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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 of, 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 uses a comma after a dependent clause

Related sections
Adjective clauses
Adverb clauses
Complex sentences
Linking Words
Noun clauses
Sentence Errors — Run-on Sentences: Part B
Sentence Errors — Fragments