Types of Dependent Clauses

The types of dependent clauses are:

Before we look at each of these, it's important to understand what dependent clauses, also known as subordinate clauses, are. 

You can also watch a video of this lesson:

Subordinate Clauses Definition and Types

clause is a group of sentences that has a subject and verb combination. The two types are independent and dependent. This sentence has both an independent and dependent clause:

He had to give up work because he injured his back

Independent Clause + Dependent (subordinate) Clause

Both clauses have a subject and verb:

  • He had
  • He injured

But only the first one expresses a complete thought and can stand alone:

  • He had to give up work (complete thought)
  • Because he injured his back (incomplete thought)

The second clause does not make sense if it is used without the first one, and so it is dependent on the first clause. It is therefore a dependent clause, also known as a subordinate clause

Noun Clauses

This type of dependent clause is used in two main ways. The first way is using question word conjunctions (e.g. where, what, when) or if and whether to create implicit questions. 

The noun clause usually follows the main independent clause:

Implicit Questions:

I'm not sure where he went.

They don't know when they will arrive.

Can you recall if you picked up my wallet?

I'm wondering whether I should go or not.

The other way that noun clauses are used is in that clauses, usually to express some kind of mental state, necessity, possibility, or truth.

'That' is often left out:

That Clauses:

I'm disappointed (that) you aren't coming

The Prime Minister is convinced (that) she'll win the election

I think (that) it was the right thing to do

It's essential (that) you study hard

It's likely (that) it will rain tomorrow

She is certain (that) her money was stolen

Adverbial Clauses

These types of dependent clauses act as adverbs and tell us something about the information that is in the main (independent) clause.

These are some of the common purposes of adverbial causes and common subordinating conjunctions:

  • Condition: if, unless
  • Reason: because, since, as
  • Time: before, after, while, as soon as, when, since, until
  • Purpose: in order to, so that
  • Concession: although, though, even though, while, whereas

With adverbial clauses, the dependent clause can go before or after the independent clause. Here are some examples of adverbial clauses:


I will go if you go as well

As it's his birthday, let's book a nice restaurant

You will lose weight as soon as you change your diet

In order to improve hospitals, there must be more investment

He's upset he failed the test even though it's his own fault

Adjective / Relative Clauses

The third type of dependent clause is the adjective or relative clause. It is acting as an adjective because it modifies a noun or pronoun.  

The clause will start with a relative pronoun e.g. which, who, that, whom, where, or whose.

it usually comes directly after the noun it's modifying so unlike adverbial clauses, the position where it appears in the independent clause will vary.

In these examples of adjective clauses, the noun being modified is underlined:


The church, which is from the 14th Century, is very beautiful

He's the one who stole the car

The student that spoke in class was placed in detention

Bristol is the city where I grew up

Ian, whose house is at the end of the street, hates living here.

Can you identify the dependent clauses in this online quiz


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