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In this lesson, we will define clause. We will then review independent and dependent clauses. Finally, we will focus on the different types of dependent clauses – including relative, noun and adverbial – discuss how to recognize them and then discuss how to use the clauses in our writing.

What Is A Clause?

Stop for a minute and think about all the ways that you may communicate throughout the day. You probably have several conversations, send texts and emails, read articles and even leave written messages through work or school. How much of your communication relies on writing? Probably much more than you originally thought.

Writing is one of the strongest ways that we communicate with each other. When we write, we develop sentences, which then develop paragraphs and eventually develop essays and longer writings. However, before we can really write a sentence, we work in clauses.What is a clause? A clause is a group of related words.

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There are several different types of clauses that can be used to develop sentences. Let’s take a look at some of these types and discuss how they are important in our writing.

Independent and Dependent Clauses

An independent clause is a clause that can stand alone. You can think of this as a simple sentence. There is a subject, verb, and complete thought. For example, if I were to write: ‘John passed the ball,’ I would have a complete, simple sentence. I have a subject, John; a verb, passed; and a complete thought, the ball.

Although independent clauses can stand alone, we often join them with other clauses to make more complex sentences. Complex sentences allow us to use various types of sentences in our writing, which is important. We do not want to bore our audience by having the same type of simple sentence structure throughout!A dependent clause is a clause that cannot stand alone; it depends on another clause to make it a complete sentence. You can recognize a dependent clause because it starts with a subordinate conjunction. A subordinate conjunction is a word that joins ideas together and shows the relationship between ideas. Some of the subordinate conjunctions that you may already know are ‘because,’ ‘although,’ ‘where,’ and ‘after.’ Subordinate conjunctions may represent time, cause and effect, and contrast.

It is important to remember that a dependent clause is not a complete thought. For example, if I were to write, ‘Because it was not his turn,’ this would not be a complete thought. Your audience does not know what happened because it was not his turn. To make a dependent clause a complete thought, you should combine it with an independent one: ‘Because it was not his turn, John passed the ball.’

Relative Clause

There are three main types of dependent clauses: relative, noun, and adverbial.A relative clause is an adjective clause that describes the noun. It is important to remember that a relative clause is not a complete thought! They are used in sentences to further describe the noun.

You can identify a relative clause by looking for three main components:

  1. It will contain a subject and a verb.
  2. It will begin with a relative pronoun or relative adverb. These would include ‘who,’ ‘whom,’ ‘whose,’ ‘that,’ and ‘which’ for a pronoun and ‘when,’ ‘where,’ or ‘why’ for an adverb. Looking for these signal words can help you identify this type of clause!
  3. The relative clause will function as an adjective, answering questions about the noun, such as: ‘Which one?’ ‘What kind?’ ‘How many?’

There are two ways to write a relative clause.

First, you would have a relative pronoun, subject, and then verb. For example, ‘when we go to the movies.’ ‘When’ is the relative pronoun, ‘we’ is the subject, and ‘go’ is the verb.Second, you would have a relative pronoun as a subject followed by the verb. For example, ‘who walked out of the store.

‘ In this example, ‘who’ is our subject and ‘walked’ is the verb. Or for another example, ‘that swarmed us.’ In this example, ‘that’ is the subject and ‘swarmed’ is the verb.

Remember that relative clauses cannot stand alone. These are incomplete thoughts and should be joined to an independent clause to become a complete sentence. In our earlier examples, we could write, ‘When we go to the movies, we always buy popcorn.

‘ The phrase ‘we always buy popcorn’ is an independent clause that completes the phrase. Or in another example, ‘who walked out of the store,’ we could write, ‘Those are the two children who walked out of the store.’ In the final example, ‘that swarmed us,’ we could write, ‘We killed the bees that swarmed us.’When writing a relative clause, it is important to punctuate them correctly.

Remember that these clauses describe a noun. Sometimes these descriptions are necessary to the meaning of the sentence, and other times they are just an extra detail.An essential relative clause contains information that is needed in the sentence. Because the information is needed to understand the sentence, we would not include any commas. For example, ‘The children who eat their dinner can have candy.’ The phrase, ‘who eat their dinner,’ is essential to the sentence because it is only these children who can have candy.

If we did not have this phrase, then it would read like all the children can have candy, which is not true. This would change the noun or subject of our sentence. It will also change the meaning of the sentence itself.A nonessential relative clause is not necessary for the meaning of the sentence. Because of this, it does require commas. The information is helpful, but the meaning of the sentence and the noun would still be clear without the clause. For example, ‘Aiden and his brother Julian, who is the oldest of the two, enjoy spending time together.

‘ The clause, ‘who is the oldest of the two,’ adds extra details, but the sentence would still be clear without it. We would still know that it was Aiden and Julian who were brothers and that they enjoy spending time together. We would still have the same subject of the sentence without the relative clause, and the meaning of the sentence stays the same.How will this help my writing? Knowing how to identify relative clauses will help you avoid this type of fragment. Remember that complete sentences require a complete thought, and these do not have one.

You will want to be sure to join these clauses with an independent one. In addition, by knowing how to identify relative clauses, you will also know how to punctuate your sentence correctly and avoid a common comma error. You will be able to show your audience what information is essential to your sentence by remembering how to identify the relative clause and then punctuate correctly.

Noun Clause

A noun clause is a dependent clause that acts like a noun. It serves the exact same function as a noun.

It can be a subject, object, or complement. Like the relative clause, a noun clause usually begins with a relative pronoun. However, it can also begin with a subordinate conjunction. Remember, like other dependent clauses, a noun clause will not stand alone!For example, you could write, ‘The spoiled milk I accidentally drank at breakfast made me sick,’ or ‘What I accidentally drank for breakfast made me sick.’ Both of these sentences have the same meaning. In the first one, you use ‘spoiled milk’ as the noun, but for the second one you use a noun clause, ‘what I accidentally drank for breakfast.

‘Because a noun clause works as a noun, it can be used many different ways in a sentence.

  1. It can be the subject of the verb, such as in the sentence, ‘What my friend did was very hurtful.’ In this sentence, ‘was’ is the verb.

    What was hurtful? ‘What my friend did.’ This is the noun of the sentence.

  2. A noun clause can be the object of the verb. In the sentence, ‘She did not know that the window was open,’ the noun clause is the object of the verb.

    What did she not know? ‘That the window was open.’

  3. A noun clause can be the object of the preposition. For example, in the sentence, ‘Kelly is the owner of the yellow house.’ What is Kelly the owner of? ‘The yellow house.’
  4. A noun clause can be an adjective complement, which modifies the adjective.

    In the sentence, ‘Aiden is sad that he had to go to bed early.’ Why is Aiden sad? ‘That he had to go to bed early.’

Noun clauses may seem very similar to relative clauses but are different and can be easy to identify. First, other dependent clauses work as adverbs or adjectives; this does not. Second, remember that a noun clause is the noun of the sentence, whereas a relative clause will be dependent on the noun of the sentence. Finally, a noun clause is always essential to the sentence. There are times (like we discussed) that a relative clause can be removed, but a noun clause is the noun and must be present.

How will this help my writing? Noun clauses can add creativity to your writing. For example, in our earlier sentences we shared the same idea two different ways. If you were writing a personal story about what you drank for breakfast, you could refer to the spoiled milk differently without confusing your audience by using a noun clause. In addition, by recognizing a noun clause, you will recognize the subject that is essential to your writing and construct your sentence correctly.

Adverbial Clause

An adverbial clause is a clause that functions as an adverb. To understand an adverbial clause, we should first review what an adverb is. An adverb modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverbs.

They tell why, when, where, how much, and how often an action occurs. An adverbial clause will answer these same questions.For example, in the sentence, ‘I walked the dog yesterday,’ the word ‘yesterday’ is an adverb. It answers the question ‘when.’ However, you could also write this as an adverbial clause and say, ‘I walked the dog before I left the house.

‘ In this sentence, the adverbial clause ‘before I left the house’ answers the question ‘when’ ‘just as the single adverb does.An adverbial clause is a dependent clause, and it will begin with a subordinate conjunction. It will also contain a subject and a verb.

Finally, it will answer one of the following types of questions:Where?It will represent the place in the sentence. For example in the sentence, ‘Wherever there is crying, there is sure to be a new baby.’ The phrase, ‘wherever there is crying,’ answers the question ‘where?’When?It will answer the question of time.

For example, ‘After we finish dinner, we will then eat ice cream.’ In this sentence, the clause, ‘after we finish dinner,’ answers the question ‘when?’ How?The adverbial clause will answer the questions of ‘under what conditions?’ For example, ‘If we are late for class, we will have to stay after school.’ In this sentence, the clause, ‘if we are late for class,’ answers the question of what will happen if we are late for school. Why?The adverbial clause will answer questions about the cause and purpose. To identify this, you would look for the answer of what caused this, or ‘what was the reason?’ For example, ‘She enrolled in college so that she could enter a new career.’ In this sentence, the phrase, ‘so that she could enter a new career,’ answers the question ‘why?’ Or for another example, ‘Because I was not hungry, I decided not to go to the party.’ The phrase, ‘because I was not hungry,’ answers the question ‘why I did not go to the party.

‘How will adverbial clauses help my writing? When you write, it is important that you offer specific, vivid examples and details to your audience. Adverbial clauses help answer questions that your audience may have. You are able to create more specific sentences in your writing, which will create for stronger essays. In addition, like the other clauses, knowing how to recognize an adverbial clause will help you make sure to avoid this type of fragment in your writing.

Lesson Summary

We need writing to communicate. In writing, it is important to recognize the different types of clauses, or groups of related words. An independent clause is a simple sentence.

It contains a subject, verb, and a complete thought. It can stand alone. A dependent clause is not a complete thought. It is combined with an independent clause to create a complex sentence. There are several different types of dependent clauses, including relative, noun, and adverbial.A relative clause is an adjective clause that describes a noun.

Some relative clauses are essential to the sentence and should not be separated with commas, while other relative clauses are nonessential and should use commas to separate the clause. A noun clause acts as the noun in the sentence. It can be the subject or object of the verb, object of preposition, or an adjective complement.Finally, an adverbial clause is a dependent clause that works as the adverb of the sentence. It will answer the questions: ‘where,’ ‘when,’ ‘why,’ and ‘how.’ It is important to know these types of clauses to avoid fragments in your writing and to know how to punctuate your sentences correctly.

In addition, using these clauses adds creativity to your writing and will allow you to create stronger, more vivid details.

Learning Outcomes

Once you finish this video on clauses, you should be able to:

  • Describe what a clause is
  • Differentiate between independent and dependent clauses
  • Examine the three different types of dependent clauses
  • Construct a relative clause, noun clause, and adverbial clause

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