What is a dependent clause?
A dependent clause (also called a subordinate clause) is a clause that relies on the information from an independent clause to form a complete, logical thought. As such, it cannot stand on its own to form a sentence.
Forming Dependent Clauses
A clause, whether it is dependent or independent, always consists of two parts—a subject and a predicate (though the subject can be implied in certain situations). The predicate consists of a verb or verb phrase (a verb and any objects or modifiers relating to it), while the subject consists of a noun, a pronoun, or a phrase containing either.
Here are some examples of dependent clauses:
- “whenever I travel”
- “whom we met on the plane”
- “that they like to eat sushi”
We can see that each of the examples above is a clause, because they each have a subject (I, we, and they) and a predicate (travel, met on the plane, and like to eat sushi). However, we can also see that they are dependent, as they do not express a complete idea—they require independent clauses to be logically complete:
- “Whenever I travel, I like to stay in fancy hotels.”
- “We struck up a great conversation with a person whom we met on the plane.”
- “She found it strange that they like to eat sushi.”
Functions of Dependent Clauses
Because dependent clauses must be a part of or attached to an independent clause, they serve a variety of grammatical functions. These vary depending on what type of dependent clause we are using.
Noun clauses are dependent clauses that function as nouns. Because of this, noun clauses can perform all the roles that a normal noun would play in a sentence: they can act as the subject, a direct or indirect object, a predicate noun, the object of a preposition, or an adjective complement. Let’s look at an example of each.
- “Wherever we decide to go is fine with me.” (Wherever we decide to go is the subject of the linking verb is.)
- “I want to see what is available before I make a purchase.” (what is available is the direct object of the verb see.)
- “I’ll send whoever is responsible a strongly worded letter.” (Whoever is responsible is the indirect object of the verb send, and a strongly worded letter is the direct object.)
- “The thing I wish for most is that people would all just get along.” (That people would all just get along is the predicate noun of the linking verb is, renaming the subject the thing I wish for most.)
Object of a preposition
- “This is the man to whom I owe my life.” (Whom I owe my life is the object of the preposition to, acting as an adjective to describe the noun man.)
- “I’m thrilled that you are coming to visit!” (That you are coming to visit is the complement of the adjective thrilled.)
Relative clauses are also called adjective clauses because they provide descriptive information about a noun or noun phrase. These clauses can either be essential to the sentence (restrictive clauses) or non-essential (non-restrictive clauses).
Relative clauses are introduced by either a relative pronoun or a relative adverb.
Here are some examples:
- “The man, whom I’d heard so much about, gave an electrifying speech to the crowd.” (Whom I’d heard so much about is a non-restrictive clause modifying the word man.)
- “The escaped giraffe, which had been on the loose for weeks, was finally captured.” (Which had been on the loose for weeks is a non-restrictive clause modifying the word giraffe.)
- “The book that I wrote is being published in January.” (That I wrote is a restrictive clause modifying the word book.)
- “Any student whose desk is not clean will have detention after class.” (Whose desk is not clean is a restrictive clause modifying the word student.)
- “The house where I was born is a very special place.” (Where I was born is a restrictive clause modifying the word house.)
- “I love casual Fridays, when we get to wear jeans to work.” (When we get to wear jeans to work is a non-restrictive clause modifying the word Fridays.)
An adverbial or adverb clause is used, like a regular adverb, to modify adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. Adverbial clauses use subordinating conjunctions to connect to an independent clause. For example:
- “I went to the park before my parents woke up.” (Before my parents woke up is an adverbial clause that modifies the verb went.)
- “She waited on the shore until the ship departed.” (Until the ship departed is an adverbial clause that modifies the verb waited.)
- “Animals are cute while they’re young.” (While they’re young is an adverbial clause that modifies the adjective cute.)
- “I work better when I have total privacy.” (When I have total privacy is an adverbial clause that modifies the adverb better.)
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