Hello.Welcome to the grammar module on clauses. This module will define clauses and help you identify the two main types of clauses in sentences. This skill is very important as you move forward in other modules.
Clauses are the building blocks of sentences. As such, they make up the very basic foundation on which we will build other grammar lessons.
Let’s begin by looking at the sentence. A sentence, very simply is made up of two primary elements: a subject and a verb. The subject of any sentence is the person or thing doing the action of the sentence. The verb is that action. Because sentences only require one subject and one verb, it’s possible to have sentences with only two words, such as these.
Mostly, though, sentences are not this short. We write to convey information, and when we do, we add things to sentences to provide that information as in these two examples. In these examples, the sentences have only one subject and verb, so they are made up of only one clause. But be careful! Subjects and verbs can be compound. That means they each may have more than one element. In the first example here, the subject has two parts, John and his friends. In the second, the verb has two parts. Mary ate and left. Remember this as we work through other modules.Now, on to clauses.
The word clause is the term we use to describe a group of words that contain a subject and a verb. You might think that’s a sentence. At it is. Sometimes. Sometimes, though, there are clauses that contain these elements but which are not complete on their own. This is an important distinction. Today, we’ll learn about two types of clauses: independent and dependent.
Independent clauses are easy. They are sentences. They contain a subject and a verb. Most importantly, though, they convey a complete thought, one that can stand alone by itself, as these examples do. When a clause doesn’t convey a complete thought, it is our second type of clause, dependent.
Dependent clauses also have subjects and verbs. But these types of clauses cannot stand alone because they do not convey a complete thought as in these two examples. If I came up to you on the street and said, “Because I was going to a party this weekend,” you would likely stare at me blankly until I finished my sentence. That’s because it’s NOT a complete thought yet. Dependent clauses are called such because they are dependent on another part of the sentence. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
When we say that dependent clauses are dependent on another part of the sentence, what we mean is that they require an independent clauses to be complete. Think of them as needy. They can’t hang out all by themselves. We can see this at work in these two examples. Both sentences here are made up of two clauses, one dependent and one independent. This construction will be very important as we learn about commas in an upcoming module.
That’s because much of what you learn about commas and common errors will require you to be able to identify these two main types of clauses. Independent clauses are usually pretty easy to spot. Dependent clauses are easy to find if you know what to look for.You’re looking for words called subordinating conjunctions. These handy words tell us we have dependency in a clause. There are lots of them, and you’re not expected to memorize them all. However, knowing the most common will make things easier for you moving forward.
These are the most common subordinating conjunctions. Keep an eye for them in your writing. For a bigger list, check out page 196 of your Little, Brown Brief.
Now, let’s review. We’ve looked at two primary types of clauses, independent and dependent, and each of these types of clauses has a subject and a verb. The difference is in whether or not they convey a complete thought. Independent clauses do while dependent clauses do not. And we can identify dependent clauses by the presence of subordinating conjunctions.
Finally, use these additional resources to learn more about clauses or to review as we build on this knowledge in upcoming modules. Now for the fun part! The next section of this module is self-guided practice that will test your knowledge of the concepts covered.
In its very basic form, a sentence has two parts:
1. A subject
2. A verb
The subject is the person or thing completing the action (always a noun
or pronoun) while the verb is the action being completed.
In English, sentences can very well be made up of only two words. For
Mostly, though, sentences are not
this short. We add things to
convey more information. When
we do this, we are modifying the
subject or verb of the sentence.
John slept after a long day at
Sadly, Mary ate all the cake.
In these examples, the sentences
here still only have one subject
and one verb, so they are still
only made up of one clause.
What’s a clause?
Subjects and verbs can be compound,
meaning there is more than one item in
John and his friends slept after a long day
Sadly, Mary ate all the cake and left none
A clause is the technical term we use to describe a group of words that
have a subject and a verb.
You might be thinking, wait – isn’t that a sentence?
Not always. There are clauses that contain subjects and verbs which
are not complete on their own. In this lesson, we will focus on two
primary types of clauses:
An independent clause is a sentence. It can stand alone by itself, and
it conveys a complete thought.
I went shopping at the mall yesterday.
The dog chased the ball.
These clauses contain a subject and a verb AND they convey a
complete thought. They are independent.
When a clause does not convey a complete thought, it is dependent.
A dependent clause also contains a subject and a verb. Unlike
independent clauses, however, a dependent clause does NOT convey a
Because I was going to a party this weekend.
When I threw the ball in the yard.
These clauses contain a subject and a verb, but they do not convey a
complete thought. They require something else to make sense, making
them dependent on another part of the sentence.
Dependent clauses must always be attached to an independent clause.
Let’s look at a few examples.
More on Dependent Clauses
Dependent clauses require independent clauses to be complete.
That’s why they’re called dependent. If it helps, think of them as
Because I was going to a party this weekend, I went shopping at the
When I threw the ball in the yard, the dog chased it.
To make these sentences complete, we’ve added independent
clauses. These are sentences made of two clauses – one dependent
and one independent. This information will come in handy as we learn
about fragments in a later module.
Much of what you’ll learn about commas and common errors this
semester will require you to be able to identify types of clauses.
Dependent clauses are easy to find when you know what to look for.
Dependent clauses contain special words called subordinating
conjunctions. These words identify a clauses as dependent. While
there are many of these conjunctions, memorizing just the most
common will help you avoid errors in the future with dependent
clauses. Let’s take a look at them.
Common Subordinating Conjunctions
The words to the right are the most common
subordinating conjunctions that indicate
For a more comprehensive list, see page 196 of
your Little, Brown Brief.
Have a subject and verb
Convey a complete thought
Have a subject and verb
Do NOT convey a complete
Are identified by the
presence of a subordinating
Must be attached to an
To learn more about clauses:
See pages 209-211 in your Little, Brown Brief
See the Purdue Online Writing Lab resource on clauses. Click here to
visit the page (opens in new window).