Bringing It Up a Notch: Clauses
A clause is just a notch more complicated than a phrase. Like a phrase, a clause is used as a particular part of speech or part of a sentence; however, unlike a phrase, a clause has a verb and its subject. Independent and subordinate are the two main types of clauses.
The Declaration of Independent Clauses
An independent (main) clause is a group of words that has a verb and its subject. Also, this group of words could stand alone as a sentence; that is, the words could make sense if they were by themselves. Here's an example:
This is one independent clause. It has a subject (
This sentence has two independent clauses. The first —
Remember that independent clauses joined by
The independent clause in this sentence is
In a State of Dependency: Subordinate Clauses
A subordinate (dependent) clause has a verb and its subject, but it can't stand alone as a sentence. When you read the words of a subordinate clause, you can see a subject and a verb but the words don't make sense by themselves. In order for a subordinate clause to make sense, it has to be attached to another part (to some independent clause) of the sentence. A subordinate clause usually begins with a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun. Look at the last example in the discussion about independent clauses:
In this sentence,
when the cards fell on the floor and scattered everywhere
So, what about them? What happened next? If the terminology of clauses seems complicated, think of the relationship this way: since a subordinate clause can't stand alone, it's secondary (subordinate) to the main clause of the sentence. Or, a subordinate clause relies (is dependent) on another clause (an independent clause) that's in the same sentence.
English has three types of subordinate clauses, and each acts in a different way in a sentence.
An adjective clause is a subordinate clause that acts as an adjective; it modifies or describes a noun or pronoun. Looked at a different way, an adjective clause answers
Careful! Just to confuse you, sometimes an adjective clause has
Because an adjective clause modifies a noun, it can modify a subject, direct object, indirect object, predicate nominative, or object of a preposition.
A noun clause is a subordinate clause that acts as a noun; it can be the subject, predicate nominative, appositive, object of a verb, or object of a preposition. A noun clause answers
A noun clause is often introduced by
An adverb clause is a subordinate clause that acts as an adverb; it can modify or describe a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Looked at in a different way, an adverb clause answers
Remember to use a comma after an introductory adverb clause, as in this example:
By eliminating the noun or pronoun and changing the verb, you can change clauses into phrases; in the same vein, you can add a subject and verb to a phrase and create a clause. Why would you want to change clauses into phrases (or vice versa)? After you've written a paragraph, you might notice that you've used the same style in several sentences, and because of that your writing seems monotonous or “sing-songy.” Reconstructing your sentences by changing clauses and phrases might help eliminate that effect and make your paragraph livelier. Notice the difference here:
Adjective clause: The green van that is on the used car lot caught my eye.
Adjective phrase: The new green van on the used car lot caught my eye.
By the same token, you can convert a subordinate clause into an independent clause by adding a few words:
Try the interactive quizzes on phrases and clauses at these Web sites:
A Matter of Necessity: Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Clauses
Clauses are also divided in another way, depending on whether they're necessary in a sentence. A restrictive clause (essential clause or a defining clause) is necessary to the basic meaning of the sentence; a nonrestrictive clause (nonessential clause or nondefining clause) can be eliminated from the sentence without changing its basic meaning.
In the first example, the clause
What's the difference between a phrase and a clause?
A clause has a verb and its subject; a phrase doesn't.
Notice in the preceding examples the word