Clauses simplified

When you join grammatical units and they contain a main verb, a clause is born.

Just like a phrase, a clause is meaningful and forms part of a sentence, but unlike the former, it can be a complete sentence. Thus, a clause is a simple sentence—one that contains a single thought.

  1. He switched off the light.
  2. If he cannot sing (dependent/subordinate), send him out (independent).

The examples above show that a clause can either stand alone (independent/main) or depend on another of its kind (dependent/subordinate), but both have a meaningful structure.

Main clause
The main (independent) clause is that clause that makes a complete sense on its own. It doesn’t need the support of another to be meaningful, but can accommodate more information. Thus, every sentence contains at least a main clause.


  1. We are here to sing.
  2. Nothing is impossible.
  3. They went back to work.
  4. I appreciate your kind gesture.

Subordinate clause
The subordinate (dependent) clause, on the other hand, depends on the main clause for its meaning.

  1. While he was still watching (subordinate), the assailant attacked his son (main).
  2. After using all the drugs (subordinate), he began to recuperate (main).
  3. This is the army (main), if you don’t know (subordinate).

Types of subordinate clauses: relative and conditional.

Relative clause: it connects with the main clause through word such as which, whom, whose, when, who, whom and that.

  1. This is the book which the teacher talked about.
  2. He is the veteran whose pension was stopped.

The two types of relative clauses are: restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses.

Conditional clause: this uses ‘if’ and ‘unless’ to express possibility or probability.

  1. If we agree on it, he would be forced to quit.
  2. The government will fund the project unless there are discrepancies in the report.


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