A Comprehensive Guide to Clauses in English Grammar

To effectively communicate in English, it’s essential to understand clauses and their various types. In this article, we will delve into the different types of clauses, offering unique examples and explanations to help you grasp their usage in English grammar.

What is a Clause?

A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. Complete sentences are composed of at least one clause, although they may include multiple clauses. For instance:

  • Lisa won the race. (One sentence, one clause)
  • Lisa won the race, and she received a trophy. (One sentence, two clauses)

Types of Clauses

Four primary types of clauses exist in English grammar:

  1. Independent Clauses (Main Clause)
  2. Dependent Clauses (Subordinate Clause)
  3. Relative Clauses (Adjective Clause)
  4. Noun Clauses

1. Independent Clauses (Main Clause)

An independent clause is a complete sentence with a subject and verb, expressing a complete thought. The structure of an independent clause is as follows: Subject + Verb = Complete Thought. For example:

  • Tom reads. (This sentence is complete, containing a subject and predicate.)

Independent clauses can be connected by coordinating conjunctions to form compound or complex sentences.

Coordinating Conjunctions:

  • and
  • but
  • for
  • nor
  • or
  • yet

2. Dependent Clauses (Subordinate Clause)

A dependent clause is part of a sentence that contains a subject and verb, but does not convey a complete meaning. While it may make sense on its own, a dependent clause requires the rest of the sentence for context and meaning. Dependent clauses are often connected to independent clauses to form complex sentences, typically starting with a subordinating conjunction.

Subordinating Conjunctions:

  • after
  • although
  • as
  • because
  • before
  • even if
  • even though
  • if
  • once
  • provided that
  • rather than
  • so that
  • since
  • though
  • than
  • that
  • until
  • unless
  • whenever
  • when
  • whereas
  • where
  • whether
  • while

Dependent Clause Structure:

Subordinate Conjunction + Subject + Verb = Incomplete Thought


  • As soon as it starts raining, I’ll open my umbrella.

3. Relative Clauses (Adjective Clause)

Relative clauses begin with relative pronouns, such as who, which, or whose. These clauses help differentiate between human and non-human antecedents.

Relative Pronouns:

  • Who(m): used when the antecedent is a person
  • That: used for either a person or thing
  • Which: used for anything except a person

Relative clauses can be restrictive (defining) or non-restrictive (non-defining). Restrictive clauses help identify the noun, while non-restrictive clauses provide additional information without specifying the noun.


Restrictive: The author who wrote the mystery novel won an award.

Non-Restrictive: The author, who wrote the mystery novel, won an award.

4. Noun Clauses

Noun clauses are dependent clauses that function as nouns. They can act as subjects, direct or indirect objects, or predicate nominatives.


  • Can you tell me what

time the movie starts? (direct object)

  • I will give whoever brings me coffee a big tip. (indirect object)
  • Whatever you decide is fine with me. (subject)
  • The winner is whoever finishes the race first. (predicate nominative)

Noun clauses often begin with pronouns or other words that have a grammatical function in the sentence.

  • Relative pronouns: that, what, who, which, whom, whose
  • Indefinite relative pronouns: whoever, whomever, whatever, whichever, whether, if
  • Interrogative adjective: what
  • Interrogative adverb: how
  • Interrogative pronoun: who
  • Subordinating conjunctions: whenever, how, when, if, where, whether, why

Common Mistakes

There are several common mistakes when using clauses in English grammar:

  1. Comma splices: Connecting two independent clauses with just a comma, without using a coordinating conjunction or proper punctuation.
    • Incorrect: Sarah loves cats, she has three at home.
    • Correct: Sarah loves cats; she has three at home.
  2. Run-on sentences: Writing two or more independent clauses without proper punctuation or conjunctions.
    • Incorrect: Lisa is a great cook her lasagna is delicious.
    • Correct: Lisa is a great cook, and her lasagna is delicious.
  3. Misuse of relative pronouns: Using the wrong relative pronoun for the antecedent.
    • Incorrect: The car which was speeding got a ticket.
    • Correct: The car that was speeding got a ticket.
  4. Dangling modifiers: Incorrectly placing a modifying clause or phrase, making the sentence unclear or illogical.
    • Incorrect: Walking down the street, the flowers smelled lovely.
    • Correct: Walking down the street, I smelled the lovely flowers.

Practice Questions

Select the best option for each question. The answers are provided at the end.

  1. She won the lottery, _____ she bought a new house.
    1. So
    2. But
    3. and
  2. _____ you finish your homework, you can watch TV.
    1. If
    2. Although
    3. Because
  3. The dog _____ barks loudly belongs to my neighbor.
    1. that
    2. which
    3. who
  4. _____ did you find the keys?
    1. Where
    2. When
    3. How
  5. I can’t believe _____ they did for your birthday!
    1. what
    2. which
    3. that

[Answers: 1. a) so, 2. a) If, 3. a) that, 4. a) Where, 5. a) what]

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