Independent and Dependent Clauses

Independent and dependent clauses are the building blocks of sentences. A single independent clause expresses a complete thought and can be a sentence by itself. Dependent clauses don’t express a complete thought, but they add more information to a sentence. When you join independent and dependent clauses with conjunctions and proper punctuation, they create compound and complex (and compound-complex!) sentences that are fun and engaging to read.

Man reading book with Independent and Dependent Clauses examples Man reading book with Independent and Dependent Clauses examples
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Independent Clause Defined

An independent clause is a full sentence. It does not need to be joined to any other clauses because it contains all the information necessary to be a complete sentence.

Independent clauses have three components:

  1. subject - tells the reader what the sentence is about

  2. predicate (action) - tells the reader what the subject is doing

  3. a complete thought - a full picture of what happened or was said

Examples of Independent Clauses

Independent clauses can be simple sentences that consist of a subject and a verb. For example:

  • Jim reads. (Jim is the subject, reads is the verb)

  • Sarah teaches. (Sarah is the subject, teaches is the verb)

  • Mark plays. (Mark is the subject, plays is the verb)

If you add direct objects to these sentences, they’re still independent clauses:

  • Jim reads the newspaper.

  • Sarah teaches high school.

  • Mark plays basketball.

Join independent clauses to other independent clauses with coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) or semicolons. These new sentences are called compound sentences.

  • Jim reads the newspaper, so he understands what’s happening in town..

  • Sarah teaches high school and she volunteers at a homeless shelter.

  • Mark plays basketball; he’s not very good.

Common Errors Combining Independent Clauses

When you combine independent clauses without proper punctuation, you get a run-on sentence. For example, “Jim reads the newspaper he understands what’s happening in town” is a run-on sentence.

When two independent clauses are joined only by a comma (such as “Jim reads the newspaper, he understands what’s happening in town”), it creates a grammatical error called a comma splice. Avoid these common mistakes by combining independent clauses correctly.

Dependent Clause Defined

Like independent clauses, dependent clauses include a subject and a verb. But unlike independent clauses, they do not express a complete thought. They add more information to an independent clause to clarify meaning but can’t stand alone.

There are several different types of dependent clauses, including:

You can spot a dependent clause by the presence of a subordinating conjunction (such as before, after, because, since, in order to, although, whenever, while, or even though).

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Examples of Dependent Clauses

When dependent clauses stand on their own, they don’t make much sense. For example:

  • who gave me a present

  • because he loves her

  • that used to be a video store

However, when you add them to independent clauses, their meaning is clear:

  • I’d like to know who gave me a present. (who gave me a present is a noun clause that acts as a direct object)

  • He asked her to marry him because he loves her. (because he loves her is an adverbial clause that modifies the verb asked)

  • Let’s meet at the restaurant that used to be a video store. (that used to be a video store is a relative clause that modifies the noun restaurant)

Common Errors Combining Dependent Clauses

Dependent clauses can’t stand alone as a full sentence. If they’re not joined to another clause, they create a sentence fragment. For example, “because I forgot my homework” is a sentence fragment because it doesn’t express a complete thought. When you combine it with an independent clause to make “Because I forgot my homework, I got sent home,” it’s no longer a sentence fragment.

Vary Your Writing With Different Sentence Structure

If your writing is starting to sound a little boring, it’s probably because you’re only using one type of sentence. Mixing up your sentence can add interest to any piece of writing. Check out: