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Term Definition

A clause always contains a comprehensible thought of some kind, usually consisting of the combination of a noun and a verb. There are, however, different kinds of clauses. One is the independent clause, and another is the dependent clause. The independent clause is a complete sentence, whereas the dependent clause would not be able to stand alone in a grammatically correct way. In any event, the clause can be understood as the basic unit of meaning. 

Clauses - The dividing factor

So you've come to this page to learn more about sentence clauses so you can construct better sentences on your next college essay or interview cover letter or maybe your next personal letter to a friend or relative who happens to be very picky about your grammar and syntax and ability to put together sentences that are well constructed and don't ramble on too much.

Now what was wrong with that last sentence? Well, for starters, there were no commas; hence it was all one humungous multi-compound clause. In essence, it was the ultimate run-on sentence; a problem that could easily be avoided with the proper use of clauses: units that represent complete or subordinate thoughts.

Adds depth and meaning to sentences

A clause is defined as the smallest single unit of complete preposition. Now because the first sentence in this paragraph completed a point without the need for a comma, the sentence was an independent clause. The sentence that followed, however, included a subordinate clause before the comma. While the subordinate clause wouldn't have stood on its own as a complete proposition, it added depth and meaning to the main clause of the sentence.

In English, the subject-verb (SV) clause is the standard form for conveying things in a neutral way.

  • The cat unwound the yarn,
  • Jack did not come back to the club.
  • My wallet was stolen last night.

Verb-first clauses are used more to express commands and imperatives.

Of those last three examples, the first and third function as independent clauses, but the second is a dependant (conditional) clause.

Using commas in a clause

While clauses are often delineated by commas, you don't exactly need one to include a main and subordinate clause (also called a dependent clause) within the same sentence. Consider the following examples.

  • Due to loudness production, I don't like most music made after 1987.
  • Until they get money out of politics, democracy is dead in this country.
  • After Morrison's death, the others tried bumbling on as a trio.
  • I would never wear that suit unless the rest of my clothes became moth-ridden.
  • You won't become a pro unless you practice everyday.
  • "Rat Trap" flopped in the states because the band lacked a U.S. label.

In the first three examples, commas were necessary because the conjunctions "due," "until," and "after" were used up front, rendering the first halves of those sentences subordinate. But in the second three examples, the conjunctions "unless" and "because" appeared in between the main and subordinate clauses, thus it was unnecessary to use commas. Basically, if the subordinate clause comes first, a comma is needed. If the main clause comes first, no comma is necessary.

Clauses that start out with one of the five Ws—who, what, when, where, why—are known as wh-clauses.

  • Who could have possibly found out about our rendezvous?
  • Where are you going with that document?
  • What could have been his motive for pumping billions into defeating that measure?
  • When Washington was alive,

Unless it's a subordinate—as in the last example—wh-clauses usually form questions.

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Synonyms: clause

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