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Dependent Clause

A dependent clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. It does not express a complete thought so it is not a sentence and can't stand alone. These ‘clauses include adverb clauses, adjective clauses and noun clauses.

Dependent clauses are necessary to sentence structure

A dependent clause is an incomplete sentence that cannot function without the aid of a dependent clause. Also called a subordinate clause, it typically contains a prepositional phrase or incomplete thought. Some dependent clauses are additional information to complement the independent clause. Read more about other clauses.

Usage us taught during middle school, also called junior high school in some areas. Teachers use devices to instruct students how to create complete sentences. A complete sentence includes a subject (noun and doer of the action) and predicate (verb and action done by subject). A compound sentence has two independent clauses, which typically neglects including a dependent clause.

Dependent clauses are one of the most common elements of English. They are used in complex and compound-complex sentences.

Cannot stand alone in a sentence 

Dependent clauses rely on other clauses to make up a sentence. For example, “unless Peter helps” is a dependent clause. “I am not cleaning the dishes unless Peter helps” is an independent clause complemented by a dependent clause, also called a complex sentence.

Using independent and dependent clauses to create a complex sentence is the most common sentence structure for adults and older children, while simple sentences, those with only independent clauses, are more common with younger children.

Here are some examples of dependent clauses underlined.

  • “The crew could see the whale, which had surfaced only 50m behind them.”
  • “Do you know the butcher who went to court on Saturday?”
  • “I am not tidying the dishes unless Peter helps.”
  • “The excellence of a gift lies in how appropriate it is rather than how valuable it is.”

Dependent clauses are divided into the adjective clause, adverb clause, and noun clause. Or, in other words, dependent clauses can act as adjectives, adverbs, or nouns. 

Dependent clause - Complimenting a sentence

The three dependent clause types help complement, explain, and further the sentence. Some sentences cannot function without one of the three rules, while other sentences are better written in simple structure.

Here are a few examples of the three types of dependent clauses:

The Adjective Clause

“The car, which your wife sold me last week, has broken down.” Here the dependent clause “which your wife sold me last week” describes more about the car and functions as an adjective. This is called an adjective clause.

The Adverbial Clause

Adverbial clauses are a little different and require an expert eye to determine the functionality of the clause. Here is an example of a dependent clause acting as an adverb:

“He literally stitched mail sacks until his fingers bled.” Here the dependent clause “until his fingers bled” modifies, or explains, the verb “to stitch.” This is called an adverbial clause.

The Noun Clause

Here is an example of a dependent clause acting as a noun:

“Whoever turned the ovens off is keeping quiet.” This is a primary example of a noun clause. The dependent clause “Whoever turned the ovens off” is the subject of this sentence. This may be a little difficult to determine because “whoever” appears to be the noun. However, this is a pronoun, and the entire clause represents one individual. 

When using dependent clauses with independent clauses, they are represented by a conjunction. The other device used to link a dependent clause with an independent clause is called a relative pronoun. For example, “He worked until the boss returned” is a complex sentence utilizing a conjunction. 

Types of subordinating conjunctions include:

  • after
  • although
  • as
  • because
  • before
  • even if
  • even though
  • if
  • provided 
  • rather than
  • since
  • so that
  • than

Relative pronouns are just as easy to learn. For example, “The door, which your dog scratched, needs a coat of paint” is a relative pronoun complex sentence. 

Types of relative pronouns include:

  • how
  • that
  • what
  • when
  • where
  • which

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