Today, I thought I’d rehash my post on commas but then realized you need to understand what dependent and independent clauses are first. When I read indie author’s work, I often find they don’t always know what the difference is. Hence, here is my old post from February 2016 again. I have updated it slightly and made sure all links are active (at least the ones mentioned in the text).
The Independent and Dependent Clauses
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 realized how important the clause is, and I admit I have made many 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 by 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, it’s amazing! (You’ll have to search for it on this website, just enter ‘239 words sentence’ into the search function and follow the prompts).
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.
- 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, too many to mention 🙂 , so check out this page)
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 of 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 here are good examples of 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 integrate the conjunction word. Look at the next two examples.
Example 1: We drank a lot of wine, but the wine was horrible, and we danced all night.
Example 2: We drank a lot of wine, which was horrible, and we 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.
Have a Wonderful Writing Week(end)!