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University of VictoriaIntroduction to IT English
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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 —

  • 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 I am online, I check my e-mail.
  • 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 Web site that I visited last week was very informative.
  • 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 programmer asked who wanted to test the new software.

A dependent clause —

  • cannot be written as a complete sentence.
  • can be placed at the beginning, in the middle, or 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.