English language follows the Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) order. The verb is most important, since without it no sentence can be formed. A sentence may be divided in two parts – Subject and Predicate. The Subject part contains the Subject, and the Predicate part contains the Verb and the Object. A typical clause consists of a subject and a predicate, the latter typically a verb phrase, a verb with any objects and other modifiers. However, the subject is sometimes not said or explicit as in imperative sentences and non-finite clauses.

There are many types of clauses including Independent clauses, Dependent clauses, Finite clauses, Non-finite clauses, Standard SV-clauses, Verb first clauses, Wh-clauses, Relative clauses, Argument clauses, Adjunct clauses, Predicative clauses, Adverbial clauses, Gerund clauses, to-infinitive clauses, Conditional clauses and Small clauses. We shall restrict our discussion to Independent and Dependent clauses.

A simple sentence usually consists of a single finite clause with a finite verb that is independent. More complex sentences may contain multiple clauses. Main clauses (matrix clauses, independent clauses) are those that can stand alone as a sentence. Subordinate clauses (embedded clauses, dependent clauses) are those that would be awkward or incomplete if they were alone.

Independent Clause

An independent clause (or main clause) is a clause that can stand by itself as a simple sentence. An independent clause contains a subject (S) and a predicate (V and /or O) and makes sense by itself.

I have enough money to buy an ice cream cone.
My favourite flavour is chocolate.

Independent clauses can be joined by using a semicolon ( ; ) or by using a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet).

I have enough money to buy an ice cream cone; my favourite flavour is chocolate.
I have enough money to buy an ice cream cone, so let’s go to the shop.

Dependent Clause

A dependent clause (or subordinate clause) is a clause that cannot stand by itself as a sentence. To stand, it has to depend on the independent clause. A dependent clause provides a sentence element with additional information. A dependent clause can either modify an adjacent clause or serve as a component of an independent clause.

The different types of dependent clauses include content clauses (noun clauses), relative (adjectival) clauses, and adverbial clauses.

Any independent clause may be converted into a dependent clause by the addition of a dependent word prior to it. One kind of a dependent word is a subordinating conjunction. Subordinating conjunctions are used to begin dependent clauses known as adverbial clauses, which serve as adverbs.

Wherever she goes, she leaves her luggage
(Wherever is the subordinating conjunction. The adverbial clause wherever she goes modifies the verb leaves.)

Bob enjoyed the movie more than I did.
(The adverbial clause than I did modifies the adverb more.)

A subordinating conjunction can also introduce a noun clause:
I know that he likes me.
(The noun clause that he likes me serves as the object of the main-clause verb know.)

Relative Pronouns

Another type of dependent word is the relative pronoun. Relative pronouns begin dependent clauses known as relative clauses; these are adjective clauses, because they modify nouns.

Relative pronouns are the following words:

who, whom, whose, whoever, whomever, which, that, and sometimes the words what, when, and where.

The only one of the seven dwarfs who does not have a beard is Dopey.
(The adjective clause who does not have a beard describes the pronoun one.)

1. Kroeger, Paul R. (2005). Analysing Grammar: An Introduction. Cambridge. UK: Cambridge University Press.
2. Radford, Andrew (2004). English syntax: An introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
3. David Crystal (2011). A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-4443-5675-5.
4. Rozakis, Laurie (2003). The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style. Alpha. ISBN 1-59257-115-8.
6. Owl Online Writing Lab Archive: Independent and Dependent Clauses

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