Clauses - Sentence Structure


Clauses are groups of words that contain a subject and a verb.  

Independent.  It could be a stand-alone group of words.  In that case, we have a proper sentence.  The stand-alone group of words is called Independent.

Dependent.  It could be a group of words with subject and verb that cannot stand alone.  In that case, it’s not a proper sentence, and the group of words would be called Dependent.

Sentence.  What is a sentence?  A sentence is either

  • an independent group of words (a complete thought) or
  • an independent group of words (a complete thought) with a couple of dependent clauses leaning on the independent clause




Clauses - A few examples

First, the basics:

Subject.  First you have to know what is a subject.  A subject is a noun or pronoun and is what the sentence is about.

We can be talking about a person, place or thing.  The following groups of words are independent.  They can stand alone exactly as they are.  Each is a complete sentence.  We expect nothing more.

  • John is an excellent student
  • Chicago is a windy city.
  • The desk is the corner of the room.


Above, you have nouns which are the subject of each sentence. 

  • The first sentence is about “John.” 
  • The second sentence is about “Chicago.” 
  • The third sentence is about “the desk.”

Each of those nouns is the “subject” of the sentence.  The subject is a necessary part of a sentence.  A sentence can stand alone.


Verb.  You also need to know what is a verb.  A verb is generally an action word – jump, walk, talk.  (A  verb can also be a “being” verb.  Review the section on Verbs to learn more about that topic.)

  • John jumps over the fence easily.
  • We walk round the pond every morning.
  • Many in the audience talk quietly before the presentation.  

Each of those verbs is the “verb” of the sentence.  The verb is a necessary part of a sentence.  A sentence can stand alone.  Each group of words above contains both a subject and a verb.  

  • Each of these groups of words above can stand alone and make complete sentence. 
  • Each is a complete thought. 
  • Each is independent.




Independent vs Dependent

Independent clause.  The sentence, with subject and verb, and a complete thought that can stand alone, is called independent.

  • John is an excellent student
  • Chicago is a windy city.
  • The desk is the corner of the room.
  • John jumps over the fence easily.
  • We walk round the pond every morning.
  • Many in the audience talk quietly before the presentation. 

Dependent.  A dependent clause will begin with a conjunction, generally.   The word conjunction means "joining with..."

  • Although John is an excellent student…
  • Because Chicago is a windy city…
  • Because the desk is in the corner of the room …
  • Because John can jump over the fence easily…
  • When we walk round the pond every morning…
  • Because many in the audience talk quietly before the presentation… 


Above, each of the original complete sentences has had a “conjunction” added before it. The conjunction appears in italic font.

Incomplete thoughts.  The formerly complete sentences are now incomplete thoughts.  You know it's incomplete because you are expecting something else to complete the thought.  

Subject and verb.  However, each of those groups of words, even though each has a proper subject and a proper verb, cannot stand alone as a complete thought.  Each one is dependent.


The dependent clauses lean on – or depend on – the rest of the words to make up a complete sentence.


With each dependent group of words above, if we add a fully complete independent group of words after it, we can create a full sentence again (or a longer, but complete, thought). 

Complete thoughts - Independent

  • Although John is an excellent student, he has never achieved a scholarship for his studies.
  • Because Chicago is a windy city, we are taking our coats with us.
  • Because the desk is in the corner of the room, it does not dominate the room’s furniture.


I have listed the independent groups of words below for clarification:

  • He has never achieved a scholarship for his studies.
  • We are taking our coats with us.
  • It does not dominate the room’s furniture.


Each of the dependent clauses depends on – or leans on – those independent clauses above.

  • Can you see how each independent group of words is a complete thought and can stand alone?
  • Can you see how each dependent group of words is not a complete thought and cannot stand alone?

Understanding what is dependent and what is independent is the key to learning how to write effectively.

Sentences - Simple, Compound, Complex

Additional terms for various kinds of sentences are shown below:

  • Simple sentence.  When you have a single independent group of words (with subject and verb), you have a simple sentence.
  • Compound.  When you have two independent groups of words together, you have a compound sentence.
  • Complex.  When you have an independent plus a dependent group of words, you have a complex sentence.

Punctuation you'll use in these structures

To join the dependent and independent groups together, place a comma between.

Examples:

  • Although John is an excellent student, he has never achieved a scholarship for his studies.
  • Because Chicago is a windy city, we are taking our coats with us.
  • Because the desk is in the corner of the room, it does not dominate the room’s furniture.


To join two independent groups, add a conjunction between plus a comma.

Examples:

  • John is an excellent student, but he has never achieved a scholarship for his studies.
  • Chicago is a windy city, so we are taking our coats with us.
  • The desk is in the corner of the room, and it does not dominate the room’s furniture.


I hope that you have understood the concept of these two common groups of words.

  • Dependent - cannot stand by itself.  It is a sentence fragment.
  • Independent - can stand by itself and is truly a proper sentence.


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LINK - Return from Clauses to Parts of Speech


LINK - Return from Clauses to Sentence Structure.