dependent clause, a foundational element of grammar, may initially seem complex but can be easily understood with a bit of explanation. It’s importance cannot go understated: a dependent clause is an essential building block of any sentence.

What is a Dependent Clause in Grammar?

First, let’s define dependent clause

With a clear understanding of form and function of a dependent clause, you can master the art of crafting complex, meaningful sentences. Let’s begin by looking at the dependent clause definition.


What is a dependent clause in grammar?

A Dependent Clause (also referred to as a subordinate clause) is a group of words that contains a subject and verb but does not express a complete thought. It can't stand alone as a sentence because it leaves the reader with questions. Dependent clauses require  additional information to form a complete thought. 

Dependent clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions which indicate the relationship between the dependent clause and the independent clause (also known as main clause) in the sentence. Examples of these include:

  • although
  • because
  • since 
  • if 
  • when 

Let's bring this concept to life with a few examples of dependent clauses:

  • Because she was late for class, (This clause makes you wonder - what happened because she was late for class? It leaves you asking for more information, hence it's a dependent clause.)
  • When the snow begins to fall, (This leaves us questioning - what happens when the snow begins to fall? It cannot stand alone as a complete thought, making it a dependent clause.)
  • Although the sun was shining, (Again, the reader is left hanging. Although the sun was shining...what? This is another example of a dependent clause.)

Remember, a dependent clause always needs an independent clause to complete its idea.


What is a Dependent Clause Defined By?

  • Incomplete Thought
  • Requires an Independent Clause
  • Begins with a Subordinator

Dependent Clause Examples

Independent vs Dependent Clause

The significant difference between a dependent and an independent clause is that while the former cannot stand alone as a complete sentence, the latter can. An independent clause is a group of words that can stand alone as a sentence as it expresses a complete thought.

Independent vs Dependent Clause · Dependent Clause Examples

Link between Dependent and Independent Clauses

The relationship between dependent and independent clauses is symbiotic and essential in complex sentence formation. A sentence may contain one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses. The dependent clause gets its meaning from the independent clause in the sentence. When used correctly, the combination of these clauses can effectively present more nuanced and detailed information. 

For instance, in the sentence, "I will eat lunch when my meeting ends," "I will eat lunch" is an independent clause that can stand alone, while "when my meeting ends" is a dependent clause that relies on the former clause to make sense. 

These two types of clauses, when interwoven, form the backbone of intricate, meaningful sentence structures in English grammar.

How to Identify a Dependent Clause

Types of Dependent Clauses

Dependent clauses can be broadly categorized into three types based on their function in a sentence. Let’s dive into the different types of dependent clauses and some dependent clause examples.

Adverbial Dependent Clauses

These clauses act as adverbs, providing information about time, place, manner, condition, or reason. For example: "When the sun sets, I go for a run."

Adjectival Dependent Clauses

These clauses function as adjectives, modifying nouns or pronouns. For example: "I bought the book that was recommended."

Noun Dependent Clauses

These clauses work as nouns, taking the place of a noun in a sentence. For example: "What you said surprised me."

Each type of dependent clause serves a distinct purpose in enhancing the structure and meaning of a sentence. Each example above shows a dependent clause serving different functions, enriching the sentence structure and adding depth to the expression.

Mistakes in Dependent Clause Sentences

Mistakes with Dependent Clauses

Understanding dependent clauses is crucial for clear and effective communication, but there are a few common mistakes that individuals often make.

Fragment Sentences

One common error is using a dependent clause as a standalone sentence. As explained before, a dependent clause doesn't express a complete thought, hence cannot function as a sentence on its own. 

For instance, writing "Although she was tired." as a sentence is incorrect because it leaves the reader hanging, expecting further information.

Comma Usage

Incorrect use of commas with dependent clauses is another common mistake. When a dependent clause begins the sentence, it should be followed by a comma. However, when it comes after an independent clause, no comma is required. 

For example, the sentence "I will go to the park. When it stops raining." is incorrect. 

Instead, it should be "I will go to the park when it stops raining."


Dependent clauses can be placed at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence. Misplacement of these clauses can lead to confusing sentences. 

For instance, in the sentence "I bought it's the car that is red," the dependent clause 'that is red' is misplaced and makes the sentence confusing. The correct sentence should be "I bought the car that is red."

Avoiding these common errors can aid in crafting clear, concise, and grammatically correct sentences. Remember, mastering dependent clauses is key to writing complex sentences and expressing nuanced ideas.

What is a Dependent Clause Used For?

Importance of Dependent Clauses

Dependent clauses play an indispensable role in crafting rich, detailed, and complex sentences. They add depth to our statements, allowing us to include additional, multifaceted information within a single sentence. They provide context, clarify relationships between ideas, and enhance the reader's understanding of the text. 

Moreover, dependent clauses contribute to textual cohesion, enabling smoother transitions and creating a well-structured narrative. Mastering dependent clauses is crucial for effective communication, both in written and spoken English.

Up Next

What is Syntax?

Understanding dependent clauses is crucial in English grammar. Now, let's focus on another important aspect - syntax. In the next article, we'll explore the rules that govern sentence structure and word arrangement for well-formed sentences.

Up Next: What is Syntax? →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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