The Independent and Dependent Clause
When I first read about ‘the clause’ I had to suppress a giggle. With no literary education apart from my high school English the only clause I had ever heard of was, of course, Santa Clause. But as I read on, I realised how important the clause is, and I admit I have made mistakes regarding this little-but-oh-so-important part of literature. I will try to give you a simplified explanation of ‘the clause’ and will start with the ‘independent clause’ vs. the ‘dependent clause.’
For those who don’t know (yet), the clause is the smallest way to make a sentence; it contains a subject and a verb. I walk. They sat. We read. These are all sentences made of a single clause. They contain a subject and a verb. You can have one or two clauses in a sentence and, if you’re wise with words, even more. Have a look at this 239-words sentence, its amazing!
Every sentence must have at least one (main) clause, otherwise you will have something called a fragment, which is, obviously, not a sentence.
Example of one clause: We drank a lot of wine. (We = subject; drank = verb)
Example of two clauses: We drank a lot of wine, and we danced all night. (We, we = subjects; drank, danced = verbs)
example of three clauses: We drank a lot of wine, although I didn’t really like the vintage, and we danced all night. (We, I, we = subjects; drank, didn’t like, danced = verbs)
Example of a fragment: Drank a lot of wine. (? = subject; drank = verb; hence no clause)
Clauses can be independent or dependent/subordinate.
An independent clause can make a sentence on its own.
Example: We drank a lot of wine.
A dependent/subordinate clause can’t stand on its own; it is dependent on an independent clause.
Example: Because we drank a lot of wine, we danced all night.
The underlined first clause in the above example is now a dependent clause as ‘because we drank a lot of wine’ is not a proper sentence on its own; because of this something happens. i.e. ‘we danced all night’. Because ‘we danced all night’ can be a separate sentence on its own it is an independent clause. ‘We drank a lot of wine’ would have been an independent clause, but because we added ‘because’ to it, it isn’t any longer. It now is dependent on the independent clause ‘we danced all night,’ and hence is now a depended clause. Confused yet?
Connecting independent clauses
You can connect two independent clauses in three ways;
- with coordinating conjunctions. They are: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so; or FANBOYS (see this page). This page also has interesting text on when to use a comma with coordinating conjunctions. I learned something again here, hence I put the comma into the example sentence with the two clauses! But more about punctuation in another blog.
- with a semicolon (;) or colon (:)
- with a semicolon, a transition word and a comma (example: I like wine; however, I don’t like dry wines) (see this page for transition words like after, as although, unless and more)
Connecting a dependent clause to an independent clause
You can connect a dependent clause to an independent clause in two ways: by using a subordinate conjunction or a relative pronoun.
You use another type of conjunction to connect a dependent/subordinate clause to an independent clause; the subordinate conjunction (although, as, because, etc.). You can find a list with the most used subordinate conjunctions here.
You can start the sentence with the independent clause or with the dependent clause. If using the former, don’t use a comma to combine the two clauses. When using the latter, separate the two clauses with a comma. These two last sentences are good examples for the latter sentence structure (dependent before independent clause).
Example of former: We danced all night because we drank a lot of wine. (dependent clause first, so no comma)
By the way, there is a fine line between transition words and conjunctions. Some words can even be used as both. Have a look at this page for further information.
Another way to connect a dependent clause to an independent clause is with a relative pronoun; that, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose, and of which. These words take over the role of the subject in the dependent clause and integrates the conjunction word. Look at the next two examples.
Example 1: We drank a lot of wine, but the wine was horrible, and danced all night.
Example 2: We drank a lot of wine, which was horrible, and danced all night.
In the second example ‘which’ takes the place of the conjunction ‘but’ and the noun ‘wine’ from the first example. ‘which was horrible’ is not an independent clause, it is dependent on ‘we drank a lot of wine’ and refers to the word ‘wine.’
I think this is enough wine drinking and dancing for now! Next week I will discuss the restrictive and non-restrictive clauses.
Have a Wonderful Writing Week(end)!
PS: If anybody notices that I’ve got something wrong, please let me know. I have no proper literary education and get all my information from the internet.