Clauses: Introduction


Here you'll meet independent and dependent clauses, including adverb, adjective, and noun clauses. Along the way, you learn how to use clauses to add description, show relationships between ideas, and eliminate unnecessary words.

Clauses: Phrases on Steroids

You've got words, you've got phrases, and now you've got clauses. The progression suggests that clauses are pumped up phrases. Indeed, clauses tend to be beefier than phrases. That's because a clause is a group of words with its own subject and verb.

You Could Look It Up

A clause is a group of words with its own subject and verb. An independent (main) clause is a complete sentence; a dependent (subordinate) clause is part of a sentence. A dependent clause cannot stand alone.

Like phrases, clauses enrich your written and oral expression by adding details and making your meaning more exact. Clauses also allow you to combine ideas to show their relationship. This adds logic and cohesion, very good things when you're trying to communicate.

There are two types of clauses: independent clauses (main clauses) and dependent clauses (subordinate clauses and relative clauses).

  • An independent clause is a complete sentence; it can stand alone.
  • A dependent (subordinate) clause is part of a sentence; it cannot stand alone.

Here are some examples of each type of clause.

Dependent ClauseIndependent Clause
Until Captain Cooke returned from his voyage to Tahiti,Tattooing was not known in the Western World.
Although they had the worst batting average in baseball,The New York Mets won the World Series in 1969.
Because his salary in 1930 and 1931 was $80,000,Babe Ruth was the best-paid athlete in the world at the time.
Strictly Speaking

Why is there a period at the end of each independent clause? Because they are complete sentences. Note that there's no period at the end of each dependent clause. That's because they're not complete sentences.

Independent Clauses: Top Dogs

An independent clause contains a subject and a predicate. It can stand alone as a sentence because it expresses a complete thought. The three independent clauses shown on the previous chart all contain a subject and a verb and express a complete idea.

The following table shows some independent clauses divided into their subjects and predicates.

The dooropened.
Dancingburns up 200 to 400 calories per hour.
Elvis's twin died at birth on January 8, 1935.
Don Larsenpitched the only perfect game in World Series history.
Itwas the fifth game of the 1956 Series.

Dependent Clauses: I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends

Dependent clauses add additional information to the main clauses, but they are not necessary to form a complete thought. They do not form a complete thought by themselves. Although each of the dependent clauses shown on the first chart in this section has a subject and a verb, it does not express a complete thought. As a result, it cannot stand alone. A dependent clause is like a child; it's unable to support itself but able to cause a lot of problems if crossed.

Quoth the Maven

See Sentences for additional information on subjects and predicates.

A dependent clause often starts with a word that makes the clause unable to stand alone. Look back at the three dependent clauses on the first chart. The words used here are until, although, and because, respectively. These words are subordinating conjunctions, as you learned in Parts of Speech. We'll review subordinating conjunctions in a few minutes.

I Know 'Em When I See 'Em

Before we go on, make sure you can identify independent and dependent clauses. In the space provided, write I for independent clauses and D for dependent clauses.

  • ____ 1. The first movie version of Frankenstein came out in 1910.
  • ____ 2. Which was produced by Thomas Edison.
  • ____ 3. Robert Zimmerman grew up in Minnesota.
  • ____ 4. Before he changed his name to Bob Dylan.
  • ____ 5. Pearl Bailey enrolled as a freshman at Georgetown University.
  • ____ 6. After she enjoyed a long career in show business.
1. I 3. I 5. I
2. D 4. D 6. D
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at and Barnes & Noble.