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Grammar Granny        < Previous        Next >


The Four Kinds of Clauses


To master English, you must know a lot about how words come together and relate to each other, not just how to spell individual words.


It's like driving: to drive well, you have to know a lot. You have to know where your keys are (!), how to unlock the car, adjust the seat and mirrors, start the ignition, check that you have gas, recognize when a tire is flat, know what to do when your battery dies, know where the turn signal and windshield washer buttons are, and many more skills . . . besides understanding the rules of the road and being coordinated enough to shift your foot from the accelerator to the brake while steering while listening to really groovy music.


Sorry. But you get the picture: good writing takes keen understanding of how words come together into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs. So let's start at the beginning. One of the basic building blocks of the sentence is the clause. You need to know the difference between a sentence and a clause so that your writing will make sense and be correct.


A clause is a group of words that contains both a subject and a verb. A subject is a person, place or thing. A verb expresses action.


A clause with both a subject and a verb that is complete in itself, and doesn't need any more wording to make it complete, is called an independent clause.


However, you can have a clause with a subject and a verb, but it will only be part of a sentence. It can't stand on its own. That's a dependent clause.


Within the realm of dependent clauses, there are two more kinds of clauses: adjectival and adverbial clauses.


No, there are no Santa Clauses . . . at least not in grammar.


Let's look at these four:


An independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence expressing a complete thought, or it can be part of a longer sentence:


We bought the dog.


We bought the dog in the same place we bought the cat.


A dependent clause - also called "subordinate" - cannot stand alone. It does not express a complete thought and isn't a complete sentence, even though it may contain a subject and a verb. Here, for example, the second "we" is a subject and the second "bought" is a verb, but the underlined words aren't a full sentence, so they form a dependent clause:


We bought the dog in the same place we bought the cat.


The remaining two major types of clauses are both dependent clauses:


Adjectival clause: a dependent clause that modifies a noun or a pronoun. It can't stand alone. It usually starts with "who," "which" or "that."


She's the one who wanted to buy the dog.


Adverbial clause: a dependent clause that modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb. It also can't stand alone as a sentence. It usually answers the questions "where," "when," "how," "why," "to what extent," or "under what condition."


We bought the dog after we bought the cat.



By Susan Darst Williams Grammar Granny 035 2006


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