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Clauses

How to Identify and Distinguish Clauses

by Owen Fourie

~ Part One ~

In English grammar we learn the rules that govern the art of putting words together. Words are grouped together to express the ideas that we wish to convey to our audience or our readers.

There are various groups of words that are known by different names. We call them sentences, clauses, and phrases. Within these groups, there are different kinds of sentences, clauses, and phrases.

In this article—the first of three parts—we’ll focus on clauses and consider the different types of clauses.

What is a clause?

A clause is a group of words consisting of a subject and a predicate.

A predicate is the other major part of a sentence (or a clause) after the subject. It modifies the subject, and it includes the verb, the objects, and any phrases governed by the verb.

Sometimes, a clause is a sentence. Often, it forms part of a sentence.

Under each of the following subheadings, you will find a sentence or sentences that will be used to identify the various clauses.

The independent clause, the main clause, the verb clause, and the coordinate clause

I returned my library book before I could incur a fine, but my sister returned her book after she received an overdue notification.

The independent clause (a verb clause) can stand on its own as a complete sentence:

I returned my library book

The main clause of this compound-complex sentence is the independent clause:

I returned my library book

The coordinate clause (also a verb clause) is an independent clause that can stand as the equivalent to the main clause:

my sister returned her book

The coordinating conjunction but alerts us to the presence of a coordinate clause:

but my sister returned her book

The dependent or subordinate clause

I returned my library book before I could incur a fine, but my sister returned her book after she received an overdue notification.

The dependent clause, also called a subordinate clause, cannot stand on its own.

It is not independent, and it cannot be a main clause. Its function is to modify the independent clause.

Although it contains a subject and a predicate, it also includes a subordinating word that makes it necessary for it to be attached to an independent clause to make sense:

before I could incur a fine

after she received an overdue notification

The subordinating conjunctions before and after, in this example, introduce us to the subordinate clauses. If a clause begins with a subordinating word, it cannot be an independent clause.

Besides a subordinating conjunction, the other subordinating word that introduces a subordinate clause is the relative pronoun (that, which, who, whom, whose).

Justin wrote a short story for his friend who was ill in hospital.

Justin wrote a short story for Ryan, who was ill in hospital.

In these two examples, we have the same subordinate clause introduced by the relative pronoun who: who was ill in hospital.

Later, we’ll use these two sentences again to see the difference between them.

The relative clause and the sentential clause

The relative clause is a subordinate clause that is introduced by a relative pronoun as demonstrated above in the sentence:

Justin wrote a short story for his friend who was ill in hospital.

A relative clause is certainly a clause. It has a subject and a verb. The subject is the relative pronoun. In the example, the word who is the subject.

The sentential clause is a relative clause, but its distinction is that it modifies more than a single word in what precedes it. In the above example, the relative clause modifies friend. It reveals which friend.

The sentential clause will modify more than that:

Our neighbor did not seem to care that his wife was left completely alone while he enjoyed the company of his friends, which really annoyed us.

The sentential clause is which really annoyed us.

What does it modify? Ask the question: What really annoyed you? Answer: The fact that our neighbor did not seem to care that his wife was left completely alone while he enjoyed the company of his friends.

In this instance, the sentential clause modifies all that precedes it, not merely a single word. It is sentential. It relates to a sentence.

In Part Two, we’ll look at restrictive or essential or defining clauses; nonrestrictive or nonessential or non-defining clauses; elliptical and noun clauses.

—–

Are there any clauses mentioned here that you find difficult to identify? If so, which are they and what confuses you? What are your particular struggles with English Grammar? If you need help with any grammar problem, ask here. Do you have any useful insights? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2011 by English Essay Writing Tips www.englishessaywritingtips.com


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  1. sana

    Nice essay

  2. Doris Sanyang

    What is the easiest way to learn clauses? I am really struggling with clauses, in idntifying the different kinds.

    1. English Essay Writing Tips

      Doris: The following steps should help you to learn about clauses:

      1. Learn, first of all, to distinguish between clauses and phrases. Study the articles on phrases at these links:

      http://www.englishessaywritingtips.com/2011/04/phrases-noun-and-appositive-phrases/

      http://www.englishessaywritingtips.com/2011/04/phrases-gerund-adjectival-and-participial-phrases/

      http://www.englishessaywritingtips.com/2011/04/phrases-verb-infinitive-and-adverbial-phrases/

      http://www.englishessaywritingtips.com/2011/04/phrases-prepositional-phrases/

      http://www.englishessaywritingtips.com/2011/04/phrases-prepositional-and-absolute-phrases/

      2. Once you have grasped the identification of phrases, proceed to study the articles on clauses at these links:

      http://www.englishessaywritingtips.com/2011/03/clauses/

      http://www.englishessaywritingtips.com/2011/03/clauses-part-two/

      http://www.englishessaywritingtips.com/2011/03/clauses-part-three/

      3. Once you are familiar with the above material, apply it in your reading by trying to identify phrases and clauses in whatever you are reading. Refer again and again to the these eight articles to help you to correctly identify the various types of clauses and phrases. The easiest and best way to learn is to put the information about them into practice.

  3. Tina Aaron

    What is meant by identifying a “storyline clause”? Thanks.

    1. English Essay Writing Tips

      Tina: The term storyline refers to the plot of a story. You may find the pdf at the following link will give you some idea of how to identify a storyline clause (regardless of the document’s relevance to the Thai language). Particularly, read pages 424 through 426 (pages 10 through 12 of the pdf).
      http://www-01.sil.org/acpub/repository/31877.pdf

  4. Eric

    I still don’t understand what is the difference between these two sentences:

    Justin wrote a short story for his friend who was ill in hospital.

    Justin wrote a short story for Ryan, who was ill in hospital.

    How can I tell a relative clause is modifying the preceding noun or entire clause

    Thanks

    1. English Essay Writing Tips

      Eric: Thank you for asking for clarification.

      The difference between the two sentences is fully explained in Part Two of this article, under the first two subheadings, “The restrictive or essential or defining clause” and “The nonrestrictive or nonessential or non-defining clause.” If you read the information there, it should clear up any confusion.

      In this article (Part One), the information under the last subheading, “The relative clause and the sentential clause,” shows you how to tell if a relative clause is modifying the preceding noun or entire clause. If you read this carefully, you’ll see.

      If, after reading these explanations, there are any points that still puzzle you, please ask.

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