Dependent and Independent Clauses – The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation


Clauses are the foundation of English sentences. A clause is typically defined as related words that contain a subject and a predicate.

There are two types of clauses: dependent and independent. A dependent (subordinate) clause is an incomplete thought that cannot stand alone as a sentence. An independent (main) clause is a complete thought that can stand alone as a sentence.

Full sentence: Although it is raining, I am going out for a run.
Dependent clause (incomplete thought): Although it (subject) is raining (predicate)
Independent clause (complete thought): I (subject) am going out for a run (predicate).

Dependent Clauses: A Closer Look

As mentioned, being a clause, a dependent clause has a subject and a predicate but cannot stand alone. It is subordinated by a conjunction or a relative pronoun, making it depend on a main clause for completion.

Examples
After (subordinating conjunction) I (subject) leave work (predicate)
The guitar that (subordinating relative pronoun) I (subject) like (predicate)
What (subordinating relative pronoun) the decision (subject) will be (predicate)

You can see that the clauses are fragments. Although each has a subject and a verb, it remains unfinished.

Because they are fragmentary and dependent, these clauses serve the main clause as modifiers or as nouns. They are generally classified as adverb, adjective, or noun clauses.

Examples
After I leave work, I will stop at the grocery store. (The dependent clause serves as an adverb for the main clause.)
The guitar that I like is for sale. (The dependent clause serves as an adjective for the subject.)
What the decision will be remains to be seen. (The dependent clause serves as the noun of the sentence.)

You may notice that introductory dependent clauses with a subordinating conjunction are typically followed by a comma before the main clause begins. The comma can sometimes be omitted if the dependent clause follows the main clause.

Examples
After I leave work, I will stop at the grocery store.
I will stop at the grocery store after I leave work.

The following table includes common conjunctions that subordinate clauses.

after even though until
although if whatever
as in order to when
because since whenever
before though whether
even if unless while

The following table includes relative pronouns that subordinate clauses.

that whoever
what whom
which whomever
who whose

Independent Clauses: A Closer Look

As mentioned, an independent clause contains a subject and a predicate and can stand alone as a full thought. It does not need (depend on) another clause to be finished.

Examples
I will stop at the grocery store.
The guitar is for sale.
I am going out for a run.

Also as we’ve discussed, independent clauses can be modified by dependent clauses. In addition, they can be joined to other independent clauses by a coordinating conjunction, a colon, or a semicolon.

If connected by a coordinating conjunction, independent clauses are often separated by a comma, particularly if they are longer sentences. Shorter independent clauses might sometimes omit the comma depending on the chosen style.

Examples
The fence needs to be repainted, and I will take care of it soon. (longer independent clauses connected by a comma and a coordinating conjunction)

You scrape the fence and I’ll paint it. (shorter independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction without a comma)

The fence needs to be repainted; I will take care of it soon. (independent clauses connected by a semicolon)

The fence color is fading: It’s time to repaint it. (independent clauses connected by a colon)

The following table includes common coordinating conjunctions that join independent clauses.

and or
but so
for yet
nor

Related Articles

Clauses and Phrases
Connecting Sentences with Commas and Semicolons
Who, That, Which
Becoming Savvy with Sentence Structures: Part One
Becoming Savvy with Sentence Structures: Part Two

Pop Quiz

Applying what you’ve learned, enclose the dependent clauses in parentheses and the independent clauses in brackets.

1. Meg likes to go out for Japanese food, but Ryan prefers to dine at Thai restaurants.

2. I will go to the party with you if you promise we’ll be home by 11:00 p.m.

3. The distance between the two towers is about 500 yards. 

4. Melanie will sign the proposal that you prepared if you send it to her this week.

5. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out, David is among the first to see it on opening weekend.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. [Meg likes to go out for Japanese food], but [Ryan prefers to dine at Thai restaurants].

2. [I will go to the party with you] (if you promise we’ll be home by 11:00 p.m.)

3. [The distance between the two towers is about 500 yards].

4. [Melanie will sign the proposal] (that you prepared) (if you send it to her this week).

5. (Whenever a new superhero movie comes out), [David is among the first to see it on opening weekend].

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