Grammar: The Independent Clause

Posted December 26, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

Independent clauses are the base of the sentence, and to keep from confusing things, I’ve separated the concept of the independent clause and the sentences it can build into two different posts.

This post on independent clauses explores its anatomy, a quick reference (with links) to sentence structure, joining independent clauses, flipping an independent clause on its head and into a dependent clause, and the dreaded comma splice.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Independent Clause
Credit to: Capital Community College
Definition: An independent clause is a complete sentence with a subject and a predicate (a.k.a., verb).

See Sentences for more on the types of independent clauses.

Independent clauses can be joined in a variety of ways to make longer, more complex sentences. Do be aware that using a variety of sentence lengths and different sentence structures makes for a more inviting story for your readers, providing them with variety.

POST CONTENTS

  • 3 Ways to Join Independent Clauses
  • Turn an Independent Clause into a Dependent/Subordinate Clause
  • Comma Splice
  • A.k.a., sentence, main clause, complete sentence

    Anatomy of an Independent Clause: Subject + Predicate
    Subject Predicate
    General Definition: Usually a noun that comes first, it is the doer of the sentence. See the post, “Predicate“, for more examples.

    Doer is also known as agent.

    General Definition: Usually a verb, the predicate usually comes after the subject and is the action performed by the subject of the sentence. See the post, “Predicate“, for more examples.

    Rule: The predicate must agree with the subject in number and person.

    Legend:

    1. Green indicates the subject
    2. Blue indicates the predicate

    The ball rolled down the street.

    The flowers will be blooming soon.

    Helen got married last week.

    It is snowing up a storm.

    The game was cancelled due to the tornado.

    I love the glass pyramid I.M. Pei designed for the Louvre.

    Return to top

    Types of Independent Clauses
    A sentence is structured according to the number and type of clauses they have.

    • Simple Sentence
    • Compound Sentence
    • Complex Sentence
    • Complex Sentence with Dependent Clause
    • Complex-Compound Sentence
    • Sentence Fragment
    • Run-on Sentence
    • Mixed Construction

    Explore these structures in the post on “The Sentence“.

    Return to top

    3 Ways to Join Independent Clauses
    There are three ways to join independent clauses:

    1. Using a coordinating conjunction, a.k.a., coordination
    2. Using a semicolon alone
    3. Using a semicolon + a conjunctive adverb
    Coordination Definition: Coordination joins independent clauses with one of the coordinating conjunctions: and, but, or, nor, for, yet, and sometimes* so. Such clauses should be fairly equal in length and balanced.

    Return to top

    Legend:

    1. Green indicates the comma and conjunction

    We all looked worse than usual, for we had stayed up studying for the exam.

    This room is unbelievably hot, and I think that I am going to pass out.

    Monday is a difficult day for me, so I try to prepare as much as possible on Sunday.

    I like wearing this helmet, and it totally accents my pumps.

    Semicolon Alone General Rule: A semicolon is most commonly used to link two independent clauses that are closely related in thought in a single sentence.

    Rule: When there is no coordinating conjunction, join two independent clauses with a semicolon.

    Return to top

    Legend:

    1. Green indicates the semicolon

    We all looked worse than usual; we had stayed up all night studying for the exam.

    This room is unbelievably hot; I think I am going to pass out.

    Monday is a difficult day for me; I have three classes and two other commitments.

    Semicolon + Conjunctive Adverb General Rule: A semicolon is most commonly used to link two independent clauses that are closely related in thought in a single sentence.

    Rule: When using a conjunctive adverb, join two independent clauses with a semicolon, the adverb (or transitional phrase), and a comma.

    See the list of conjunctive adverbs for more adverbs beyond consequently, finally, however, nevertheless, therefore, or thus OR explore the transitional phrases.

    Return to top

    Legend:

    1. Blue indicates the semicolon, transitional phrase, comma
    2. Green indicates the semicolon, conjunctive adverb, and comma

    We all looked worse than usual; however, we were relieved we had studied.

    The discussion is really interesting; nevertheless, I think I am going to pass out.

    Monday is a difficult day for me; however, I have figured out how to prepare for it.

    But however they choose to write, people are allowed to make their own decisions; as a result, many people swear by their writing methods.

    Designs three through five have some flaws in their stability; and yet, the design for the new dual-layer bridge in four has some merit.

    Turn an Independent Clause into a Dependent/Subordinate Clause
    Rule: An independent clause becomes a dependent clause when the clause begins with a dependent marker word.
    Legend:

    1. Green indicates the dependent marker

    She is older than her brother.

    Because she is older than her brother, she tells him what to do.

    The clocks runs fast.

    Assuming that the clock runs fast, we still have half an hour before we need to leave.

    Return to top

    To Comma Splice, or Better, To NOT Comma Splice
    Rule: Do NOT even think about connecting two independent clauses with a comma alone! Either use a comma + conjunction, a semicolon, a transitional phrase, a semicolon conjunctive adverb comma, or a dependent marker.
    Bad, Bad, Bad — the Comma Splice Fix It!!
    Bob didn’t mean to do it, he did it anyway. , conjunction
    Bob didn’t mean to do it, but he did it anyway.

    semicolon
    Bob didn’t mean to do it; he did it anyway.

    ; transitional phrase ,
    Bob didn’t mean to do it; nevertheless, he did it anyway.

    Return to top