Types of Clauses

The two main types of clauses in English grammar which are fundamental to sentence building are:

  • Independent Clauses
  • Dependent Clauses (noun; adverbial; adjective)

A clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. It is not the same as a sentence, which consists of all the clauses or phrases between two full stops. 

One Sentence with 3 Clauses:

Even though John likes golf, he played cricket at the weekend, and he enjoyed it very much. 

SV____ , SV ____ , SV ____

If you take a look at the above sentence, there are three sets of subject-verbs in the sentence, so there are three clauses.

However, there are only two types of clauses in the sentence: one dependent clause and two independent clauses. So what is the difference between dependent and independent clauses?

Independent Clauses

There are two key elements of an independent clause:

  • It has a subject and verb
  • It expresses a complete thought

'Complete thought' means that the clause makes sense on its own without having to add anything to it.

If there is only one of this type of clause i.e. one S-V combination, it is called a simple sentence:

One Independent Clauses (Simple Sentence):

I don't like studying too hard 

We left at 9am yesterday

Some employees are going on strike

Yesterday, the weather was terrible

If we want to add two or three independent clauses together, then we use a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, for, yet, so, nor).

If we do this, these types of clauses are called compound sentences:

Two or Three Independent Clauses (Compound Sentence):

I don't like studying too hard, but I know you do. (x2)

We left at 9am yesterday, and the train was on time, so we arrived in time for the meeting. (x3)

Some employees are going on strike, for they want more pay. (x2)

Yesterday, the weather was terrible, yet today it's lovely, so we'll stay out all day. (x3)

But the important point is that all the clauses if used alone still express a complete thought, as you can see if we take the three clauses from the second sentence:

  • We left at 9am yesterday
  • The train was on time
  • We arrived in time for the meeting

Of course we don't have the same meaning without the coordinating conjunctions as these show the relationships between the clauses, but they still make sense alone. 

Dependent Clauses

There are two key elements of a dependent clause:

  • It has a subject and verb
  • It expresses an incomplete thought 

So unlike an independent clause, this type of clause will not make sense on it's own even though it has a subject and verb.

To make sense, it must be joined with an independent clause. That is why dependent clauses are also called subordinating clauses - they are subordinate to (under the control of) the main clause, as they cannot exist without it.

Even though 
John likes golf...[Dependent Clause]

he played cricket at the weekend [Independent Clause]


Even though John likes golf, he played cricket at the weekend

Dependent Clause + Independent Clause

'Even though John likes golf' does not make sense on its own, but it does once we add the main clause to it. 

Rather than coordinating conjunctions, the relationship between these types of clauses is expressed through subordinating conjunctions, such as while, although, even though, as soon as, since, despite, which, who, that, etc.

When we join these two types of clauses, we get a complex sentence. Here are some examples of complex sentences, with the dependent clause in green:

Independent + Dependent Clause (Complex Sentences):

He likes southern Spain, whereas I like the north

Canberra, which is the capital of Australia, is a fairly new town

Although mathematics is complicated, I'm determined to pass

I'll be retiring soon as I'm nearly 70 years old 

Dependent Types of Clauses

There are three main types of dependent clauses:

  • Adverbial Clauses
  • Adjective Clauses
  • Noun Clauses

Learn more about these types of dependent clauses

Test yourself on what you have learned in this lesson:
independent and dependent clauses quiz


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