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Grammar Breakdown: Clauses

How to use clauses


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What is a clause?

A clause is a part of a sentence that consists of one or more words. Knowing how to string these clauses together is imperative for authors who wish to write complex sentences that are grammatically correct. There are different types of clauses, but the two most important to recognize are independent clauses and dependent clauses.


Independent Clauses

These clauses are called independent because they are just that: independent. They do not require additional clauses to function. They are complete sentences and make sense without other clauses backing them up. All independent clauses contain a subject and a predicate. The subject is often a noun that is performing some action; however, this is not always true, and some subjects can be verb phrases. A predicate is the action that the subject is performing. Sometimes, predicates can appear in the form of “to be” verbs, such as “is,” “are” and “were.”



“I love cats.”

Here, “I” is my subject. It is also a noun clause. “Love cats” is my predicate, and “love” is a verb.


“Going to the mall is tiring.”


In this example, “going to the mall” is the subject. However, this is not a noun. It is an action rather than a person, place, or thing. Since it acts as the noun, it is called a noun clause. “Is tiring” is this predicate in the sentence. “Is” is a “to be” verb.


Imperative Clauses

An imperative clause is a type of independent clause that instructs the reader to perform an action. Unlike most independent clauses, the subject or noun phrase might not be easily identifiable. It helps to add “You must” to the beginning of these sentences to check if they make sense and are actually independent clauses.




“Go to the store.”


By adding “You must,” we get “You must go to the store.” Now, it is easy to see that the subject is “you,” which is the reader or audience of the sentence.


Connecting Independent Clauses

There are a few grammatically correct ways to connect independent clauses together.


Commas and Coordinating Conjunctions

You can use a coordinating conjunction to connect independent clauses. These conjunctions can be remembered with the acronym FANBOYS, which stands for “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet” and “so.” A comma is placed before the coordinating conjunction when it connects two independent clauses.




“I hate pickles, but my girlfriend loves them.”


In this example, the two independent clauses are “I hate pickles” and “my girlfriend loves them.” Both can stand on their own as sentences, and since they are connected by a coordinating conjunction, a comma is placed before “but.”


A semicolon is used to join two independent clauses that relate to each other. It can be used wherever it would also be appropriate to use a period. When using a semicolon, the first word of the second clause is not capitalized.




“I hate pickles; my girlfriend loves them.”


Although a period could be used in place of the semicolon, using a semicolon creates a closer relationship between these two sentences.


Conjunctive Adverbs

A conjunctive adverb functions very similarly to a coordinating conjunction. But unlike a coordinating conjunction, a conjunctive adverb is not preceded by a comma when used to connect two independent clauses. Instead, it is preceded with a semicolon and is followed by a comma.




“I hate pickles; however, my girlfriend loves them.”


“However” is a conjunctive adverb. Since it is being used to connect two independent clauses, it has a semicolon before it and a comma after it.


Here is a list of the most common conjunctive adverbs: also, however, otherwise, consequently, indeed, similarly, finally, likewise, then, furthermore, moreover, therefore, hence, nevertheless, thus, nonetheless, rather


Dependent Clauses

Unlike their independent counterparts, these clauses cannot stand on their own as a complete sentence. Some are dependent because they are missing either a subject or a predicate. Others are dependent because they contain specific conjunctions that make them dependent.


Introductory Clauses

An introductory clause is a word or phrase that provides extra information before the main clause of a sentence. These clauses usually will answer one of the “Five Ws and How” where, what, who, when, why, and how. Introductory clauses are set off from the main clause with a comma.




“During the summer, my electric bills triple.”


The introductory clause in this example is “During the summer.” It answers the question of “when do my electric bills triple?” Notice how the comma is placed right before the subject phrase of the main clause.




“Last Tuesday, because it was raining, I took an umbrella to work.”


This example has two introductory clauses: “Last Tuesday” and “because it was raining.” “Last Tuesday” tells us when, and “because it was raining” tells us why. A comma is placed after each.


Adverbial Clauses

Also known as subordinate clauses, adverbial clauses provide additional information in the sentence or present a cause-and-effect relationship between the adverb clause and the main clause. Adverbial clauses also will answer one of the “Five Ws and How.” Adverbial clauses will also begin with a preposition or a subordinating conjunction.

Here is a list of the most common subordinating conjunctions: after, although, as, as if, because, before, even if, even though, if, if only, rather than, regardless, in order to, since, though, unless, until, whatever, when, whenever, whether, while, where, whereas, wherever


Each sentence below is an example of the adverbial clause rule that it explains. The adverbial clause will be bolded, and the subordinating conjunction will be italicized.




When an adverbial clause is at the beginning of a sentence, it acts as an introductory clause, so a comma is used at the end of the adverbial clause.


An adverbial clause, when it is in the middle of a sentence, is offset on both sides by commas.


An adverbial clause is not offset by commas when it is at the end of a sentence.


Nonessential Clauses

A nonessential clause provides additional information to the main clause. These clauses are offset by commas. To identify nonessential clauses, try reading the sentence without the clause. If it still makes sense, offset the clause. If not, then the clause is essential, so it should not be offset with commas. Words that end in “-ing” are often indicators of nonessential clauses as well.




“The referee raised the boxer’s arm, showing the audience that she was the victor.”

In this sentence, “showing the audience that she was the victor” is the nonessential clause. It provides additional information on why the referee raised the boxer’s arm, but the sentence makes complete sense without this clause.




“Vegetables, such as onions, lettuce and potatoes, are an important part of a balanced diet.”

Examples are often nonessential clauses. However, it is important to make sure that the sentence can stand on its own without the nonessential clause. For this example, “Vegetables are an important part of a balanced diet” is a complete sentence.




“Diners such as IHOP and Denny’s serve breakfast all day.”

Here, “such as IHOP and Denny’s” is not offset with commas because it is essential to the meaning of the sentence. Although “Diners serve breakfast all day” is grammatically correct, it is not factually correct because not all diners serve breakfast all day.


Adjective Clauses

An adjective clause, also known as a relative clause, functions as an adjective —  a word that describes a noun clause.




“Authors who study this blog will have a better understanding of clauses.”

In this example, “who study this blog” is the adjective clause. It modifies the noun “authors” to explain what kind of authors.


Sometimes, it is difficult to determine if an adjective clause is essential or nonessential. Please see the section “Nonessential Clauses” for more information on how to identify the difference between essential and nonessential clauses.



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