Dependent Clauses

The dependent clause, also called the subordinate clause, functions just as its name implies—it is subordinate to, or dependent on, the main clause of the sentence, i.e. the independent clause. It contains a subject and a verb, and usually an object, complement, or other modifying phrase (just like an independent clause), yet cannot stand alone as a sentence. The reason it cannot stand on its own is that this clause is used to complete a function, that is, it adds some information to the main clause, or is a part of the main clause (subject or object of the main clause). What distinguishes a subordinate clause is the conjunction or pronoun that begins it (there are cases in which this conjunction is omitted but it is nevertheless clearly understood.

There are three types of dependent clause: the noun clause, the adjective clause (also called the relative clause), and the adverbial clause.

Each performs a specific function:

Noun clause

– A noun clause functions as a subject or a direct object within an independent clause. It can also function as an object to a preposition, or as a complement.

Ex: What she said didn’t bother me as much as how she said it. – The first clause is the subject of the whole sentence, while the second clause is the object of the preposition as.

Adjective clause

– This clause functions just as a regular adjective would: it describes a noun. More than that, however, an adjective clause is commonly used to identify indefinite nouns, nouns that are not specific enough to be identified on their own, or it can provide extra information to describe or complete the understanding of a noun.

Ex: Someone from the banquet hall that Margaret booked six months ago just called to confirm the date of the reception. – This adjective clause identifies the specific banquet hall. There are many such halls, but only this particular one called.

Margaret invited all her friends to the wedding, which she promised would be spectacular. – This sentence would be complete without the adjective clause; the clause simply adds information about the wedding for effect, interest, persuasion, or any other reason.

Next week the newlyweds will fly to Hawaii to visit Kevin, (who is) Jason’s best friend, who can’t make it to the wedding. – The first adjective clause has a conjunction and verb that can be removed to create an appositive. The second adjective clause provides extra information about Kevin.

Adverb Clause

– These clauses suggest a relationship between the main clause and the subordinate clause. There are various relationships, each based on the conjunction used. For example, though signals a relationship of contrast, if signals a relationship of condition, when signals a relationship of time, and so on. It is very important to recognize the conjunction and its function in order to understand the full sentence and the relationship inherent in it.

Ex: When you arrive at the station, come outside and look for my car. – The relationship here is one of time. First, arrive. Then, come outside.

If you don’t water your plants regularly, they will wither and die. – The plants’ survival depends on your watering them regularly.

The new computer software is very complicated, though it is not difficult to pick it up quickly. Complicated suggests the software is difficult to learn. Though introduces the contrasting idea that is not difficult to learn.

Because each subordinate clause functions very differently, each clause will be looked at separately. Once you understand the use of each, you can see how they may be embedded in one another.

Noun Clause