Independent and Dependent Clauses

Independent and dependent clauses are the building blocks of sentences. A single independent clause can be a sentence, by itself. However, dependent clauses are used to make sentences more complete and more interesting. Using conjunctions and proper punctuation, dependent and independent clauses can be joined together to create interesting and complex compound sentences that are fun and engaging to read.


Independent Clause Defined

An independent clause is a clause that can stand on its own, by itself. It does not need to be joined to any other clauses, because it contains all the information necessary to be a complete sentences.

Independent clauses have three components:

  1. They have a subject - they tell the reader what the sentence is about.
  2. They have an action or predicate - they tell the reader what the subject is doing.
  3. They express a complete thought - something happened or was said.

An independent clause can be as simple as a subject and a verb:

  • Jim reads.

Jim is the subject. Reads is the action or verb. A complete thought was expressed - something was said, and the reader now knows that Jim likes to read.

Independent clauses can also be joined to other independent clauses, if the independent clauses are related. However, they MUST be joined using the proper punctuation.

  • Jim read a book; he really enjoyed the book.

The first clause is an independent clause. Jim is the subject, read is the action, book is the object.

The second clause is an independent clause. He is the subject, enjoyed is the action and the book is the object.
The independent clauses are related, so they can be joined to create a complex sentence. They are correctly joined by a semicolon.
  • Jim read a book, he really enjoyed the book.

Again, we have two independent clauses, but the independent clauses are not joined properly. When two independent clauses are joined only be a comma, it is a grammatical error called a comma splice.

Independent clauses can be quite complex, but the important thing to remember is that they stand on their own and make sense alone.

For more examples of independent clauses, check out Examples of Independent Clauses.

Dependent Clause Defined

A dependent clause is a clause that does not express a complete thought.

A clause can be dependent because of the presence of a:

  • Marker Word (Before, after, because, since, in order to, although, though, whenever, wherever, whether, while, even though, even if)
  • Conjunction (And, or, nor, but, yet)

Dependent clauses MUST be joined to another clause, in order to avoid creating a sentence fragment.

  • Because I forgot my homework.
This is a sentence fragment. We have a "because" but not a "why" or anything accompanying and following what happened "because" they forgot.
  • Because I forgot my homework, I got sent home.

Here, the error is corrected. "I got sent home" is an independent clause. "I" is the subject, "got" is the verb, "sent home" is the object. A complete thought is expressed.

Dependent clauses can become more complex if we add subjects, objects, and modifying phrases:

  • Jim, who likes books, read a book.
Jim is the subject.
"Who likes to read" is a dependent clause that modifies Jim. It contains "likes" which is a verb.
Read is a verb.
A book is the object.

Like independent clauses, a dependent clause can also be complex. The important thing to remember is that the dependent clause does not stand on its own as a complete thought.

For more examples of dependent clauses, check out Examples of Dependent Clauses.