Grammar Clauses

Isn't it marvelous that a finite system like the English language can be manipulated in an infinite number of ways? Grammar clauses help make this true, and they're particularly helpful for students as they learn more about writing and reading comprehension. Teachers can also focus on clauses to call attention to specific problems in their students' writing. Let's learn about the different types of clauses in grammar and how they work.

Define Clause vs. Phrase

Words and phrases make up clauses. Clauses are units of grammar that contain at least one predicate (verb) and a subject. This makes a clause different than a phrase, because a phrase does not contain a verb and a subject.

In fact, the essential component of a clause is the verb -- and a clause only contains one verb or verb group. A verb group can consist of a single word (such as "played," "cooked," and "swam") or contain helping verbs (as in "will excel" and "has been dreaming").

If we look at a simple sentence, we see it only contains one clause. Here are some examples of simple sentences that consist of just a single clause:

  • Darby played.

  • Jamie cooked the dinner.

  • A man in Cincinnati swam in the river.

  • Sammy will excel on the varsity team.

  • Jennifer has been dreaming during class.

Types of Clauses in Grammar

We'll begin with the two main types of clauses: independent and dependent clauses. Then, we'll dive into the various parts of speech that can also band together to form clauses.

Independent Clauses

An independent clause can stand as a sentence by itself or it can be combined with other clauses. These clauses will always contain a subject and a predicate. They can join with a dependent clause or other independent clauses to make a complex sentence. Here are some examples, with the independent clause in bold:

  • I love opening the windows while the warm breeze blows.

  • Since we enjoyed this book, we'll be sure to pay it forward.

  • She walked to the grocery store to buy a bouquet of flowers.

Dependent Clauses

By itself, a dependent clause can't be considered a sentence. Standing alone, it would be considered a sentence fragment, or an incomplete sentence. It needs to be combined with an independent clause to form a complete thought.

Let's take a look at some examples with the dependent clause in bold:

  • If that's a burrito, I'm having it.

  • He's mean mainly because he's unhappy.

  • Let's go for a walk while the sun's still out.

More specifically, dependent clauses take three forms: adverb clauses, adjective clauses, and noun clauses.

Adverb Clauses

Adverb clauses are groups of words that function like an adverb. They modify verbs, other adverbs, or adjectives. These clauses are typically used to elaborate when, where, why, how, how much, or under what condition the action of the sentence took place.

Here are some example sentences using adverb clauses:

  • Since it's just me, I'll eat in tonight.

  • My dog, although she is shy, loves people.

  • I keep a suitcase packed, in case I find a great flight to Ireland.

For more, explore these Examples of Adverb Clauses.

Adjective Clauses

Adjective clauses are groups of words that modify nouns and pronouns. These clauses tend to begin with pronouns such as:

  • who

  • whose

  • that

  • which

Here are some adjective clauses in sentences:

  • The winners, whose names are posted on the bulletin board, will receive round trip airfare to Mexico City.

  • Money that is well spent will last forever.

  • Exercise, which many people dislike, is good for you.

For a deeper dive, enjoy these Examples of Adjective Clauses.

Noun Clauses

A noun clause is a group of words that band together and act like a noun. Nouns clauses are used when a single word isn't enough. They're always dependent clauses; they cannot stand alone as a complete sentence and they often begin with words like:

  • how

  • that

  • what

  • when

  • where

  • which

  • who

  • why

Here are some sentence examples using noun clauses:

  • How he behaved was not acceptable.

  • She didn't know where she was.

  • Her favorite part of the book was when the dragon turned into a boy.

These clauses are quite common and work well in many types of sentences. For more, be sure to read Noun Clause.

Connecting Independent Clauses

You might've noticed that many clauses can be joined simply by adding a comma. Let's talk about some of the other ways you can connect the various types of clauses. Independent clauses can be connected in several different ways.

Adding a Comma and a Conjunction

One of the best ways to work with a conjunction is to include a comma. This indicates a pause, and then the conjunction can help continue your thought.

  • And - She stepped into the room, twirled around once, and cartwheeled in delight.

  • But - The boy wanted to go to the movies, but he had already spent his allowance.

  • Or - You can start a fire with a lighter, make a wish, or you can use a charcoal chimney starter.

  • Yet - The woman was late for the meeting, yet she still stopped to freshen her lipstick.

  • So - The little girl wanted to please her parents, so she did everything they told her to do.

For more on this, enjoy 8 Times Commas Were Important.

Using a Semicolon

Semicolons are another nice way to indicate a pause while still connecting your thoughts. Semicolons are best suited for joining two independent clauses.

  • I didn't eat the last cookie; I ate the last french fry.

  • That is a rose quartz; it's meant to attract love into your life.

  • She picked up the old postcard; the date matched her wedding anniversary.

  • Today, life begins anew; choose wisely.

  • Cork is a county in Ireland; if you're lucky enough to travel there, you're lucky enough.

Using a Semicolon and a Conjunctive Adverb

Conjunctive adverbs connect two independent clauses or two complete sentences. They work nicely with semicolons because they connect two complete ideas within one sentence. These adverbs help us compare and contrast items, list events, or illustrate cause and effect. Here are some examples:

  • I went to the park; however, the rain dampened my mood.

  • You will enjoy this book; moreover, it will change your life.

  • She was invincible; nevertheless, he tried to steal her joy.

  • He made the wrong move; as a result, she vowed never to see him again.

  • We took a wrong turn; consequently, we lost an hour in our drive time.

Connecting Dependent Clauses

Dependent clauses can connect to independent clauses with no punctuation or with a comma. You may want to review 8 Times Commas Were Important. It addresses pertinent times when commas (or their absence) are important. One of the first times they're important is wrapping around clauses. For example:

  • If you're going to cry about it, I'm leaving.

  • I'd like to make it clear that, while I understand your concern, you are abjectly wrong.

  • She was tired, despite her best efforts, and oh so disappointed.

Here are example sentences where a comma isn't necessary:

  • He's leaving because you're crying.

  • Life is not worth living without a wish in your heart.

  • I know it'll happen since we've been working so hard.

The more you read, the more you write, and the more commas around clauses will flow naturally for you.

Importance of Clauses

By using clauses correctly, you can quickly improve the quality of your writing as well as your ability to communicate with an audience. Clauses can help you direct the attention of the reader so that your sentence is understood. Proper usage will also help you avoid dreaded sentence fragments.

Of course, the opposite of a sentence fragment is a run-on sentence. This is a sentence that's missing appropriate punctuation and, perhaps, has too many clauses. Take a look at Run-on Sentences to learn more about the components of a sentence.

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