Grammar: The Dependent Clause

Posted December 26, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Building Your Own Website, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Oh, boy, the clauses…and I don’t mean Santa.

The dependent clause, a.k.a., subordinate clause, is one of two primary clauses in English; the other being the independent clause. Be aware that there is no one dependent clause, but a slew of them with particular “jobs”, including the adjective clause, the adverbial clause, the conditional clause, sometimes the elliptical clause, the finite / nonfinite clause, the introductory clause, the noun clause, and the relative clause.

NOTE: This post explores the general concept of the dependent clause. For specifics about the different types of dependent clauses, explore the post links above.

Dependent clauses are quite flexible in that there can be clauses inside clauses, a blend of different clauses, or a mix of the same clause inside another of the same. Or a different one. Or…

Essential or Nonessential?

One critical rule you must adhere to is whether any of the above clauses are essential or nonessential (other terms that mean the same thing include restrictive / non-restrictive and defining / nondefining clauses) and mean one thing: they mustn’t have a comma(s) or must have a comma(s).)

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.

Dependent Clause
Credit to: Purdue OWL
Definition: A group of words with a subject and a verb that is not a complete sentence (a sentence fragment) and does not convey a complete thought, although it does have different functions within a sentence.

A dependent clause may act as a noun or it acts as a modifier — an adverb or an adjective.

A.k.a., subordinate clause *, sentence fragment

* Some grammarians use the term subordinate clause as a synonym for dependent clause; others use it to refer only to adverbial dependent clauses.

Table of Contents

Common Dependent Marker Words
Rule: Connect an independent and dependent clause with a coordinating conjunction, a subordinating conjunction, or a relative pronoun.
Logic Coordinating Conjunctions
Subordinating Conjunctions Relative Pronouns
Addition and
Cause for
Choice, Option, Alternative nor
Comparison than
Condition assuming that
even if
if only
only if
provided (that)
that* **
whether or not
Example, Illustration, Explanation, Reason as
in order that
in order to
now that
Manner as if
as though
Opposition, Contrast, Concession but
even if
even though
rather than
People that* **
who (subject)*
whom (object)
Place where
Possession whose
Result or Effect so in order that
in that
so that
Things that* **
Time after
as long as
as soon as
* Can be both a dependent word and the subject of the dependent clause (Wilson, 73).

** That may also be a pronoun or an adjective.

Examples of Conjunctions in Use as Dependent Markers

  1. Yellow indicates the marker word
  2. Green indicates the dependent clause

because Mary left for Africa
whenever she did it
while we were gone
although she said it
whose body is it
whereas the party of the first part
ever since George went home
if you’re going to be that way
Ever since George went home, you’ve been moping around the house.

Well, if you’re going to be that way, I really don’t see what I can do.

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Positioning a Dependent Clause
Start of a Sentence Rule: Dependent clause begins the sentence; follow it with a comma before continuing the independent clause.
Until Mary showed up, Helen and Karrie were talking about her behind her back.


  1. Green indicates the dependent clause and its following comma
End of a Sentence Rule: Appearing at the end of an independent clausedon’t use a comma
Helen and Karrie were talking about Mary behind her back until she showed up.


  1. Green indicates the dependent clause
Middle of a Sentence Rule: Don’t use a comma if a dependent clause is in the middle of an independent clause.
Return to top The horse that won the race was a roan.


  1. Green indicates the dependent clause
Types of Dependent Clauses
Adjective Clause Definition: A dependent clause that modifies a noun with an adjective(s) as the primary word in the clause. It can sometimes also be a relative clause if the clause is introduced by a relative pronoun.
“Any man who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad.” – W.C. Fields

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character .” – the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is the song that hurts the most.

The game, which attracted 100,000 people, lasted more than five hours.

He who laughs last laughs best.


  1. Yellow indicates the adjective clause
  2. Green indicates the adjective
  3. Orange indicates the dependent clause
  4. Blue indicates the noun
  5. White-on-Blue indicates another adjective phrase
Adverb Clause Definition: Provides information about what is going on in the independent clause: why, how, when, or where something occurs.

A.k.a., relative clause, subordinate clause

Rule: When used as an adverb, it is usually part of a complex sentence with an independent clause connected to at least one dependent clause.

  • It’s a relative clause when introduced with a relative pronoun
  • It’s a subordinate clause when introduced with a subordinating conjunction
When the movie is over, we’ll go downtown.

John wanted to write a book because he had so much to say about the subject.


  1. Yellow indicates the subordinating conjunction
  2. Green indicates the relative pronoun
Noun Clause Definition: Noun clauses can do anything that nouns can do.
Rule: Sometimes looks like adjective clauses because they share some of the same dependent words, but their use is entirely different. While an adjective clause tells something about the noun, the noun clause is still a noun and serves as subject or object and occupies the subject-object positions within a sentence.
What he knows is no concern of mine.

Do you know what he knows?

What can you tell me about what he has done this year?


  1. Yellow indicates the object
  2. Green indicates the subject
  3. Orange indicates the preposition
  4. Blue indicates the object of the preposition
Relative Clause Definition: A dependent clause that connects to the independent clause of the sentence by a relative pronoun such as who, whom, which, that, whose, when, where, or why (see the full list of relative pronouns) and contains a subject and a verb.
Rule: It can be essential or nonessential.
The witch who wore the ruby slippers was crushed by Dorothy’s house.

The soldiers who guarded the gates of the witch’s castle sang as they marched.

My brother, who is an engineer, figured it out for me.
She’s sleeping with Lucian Dupont, a wingless Aedh who is obsessed with revenge.

The dog that escaped the pound has been found.
The bridge that collapsed in the winter storm will cost millions to replace.

The road that Dorothy traveled was made of yellow bricks.

The witch that Dorothy crushed had a twin sister.


  1. Green indicates the relative clause (they’re also relative clauses)

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