What Is a Subordinate Clause? (with Examples)

What Is a Subordinate Clause? (with Examples)

A subordinate clause (or dependent clause) is a clause that cannot stand alone as a complete sentence because it does not express a complete thought.

Like all clauses, a subordinate clause has a subject and verb.

Examples of Subordinate Clauses

Here are some examples of subordinate clauses (shaded). You will notice that none of the shaded clauses could stand alone as a sentence. This is how a subordinate clause (or a dependent clause) is different from an independent clause.

  • She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit. (W Somerset Maugham, 1874-1965)

  • A musicologist is a man who can read music but can't hear it. (Sir Thomas Beecham, 1879-1961)

  • Always be nice to those younger than you because they are the ones who will be writing about you. (Cyril Connolly, 1903-1974)

  • Personally I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught. (Sir Winston Churchill, 1874-1965)

Types of Subordinate Clause

Subordinate clauses can act as adjectives, adverbs, or nouns.

The Adjective Clause. Here is an example of a subordinate clause acting as an adjective:

  • The bull that charged us is back in the field.
  • (The subordinate clause that charged us describes the bull. It is an adjective clause.)
The Adverbial Clause. Here is an example of a subordinate clause acting as an adverb:

  • I fished until the sun went down.
  • (The subordinate clause until the sun went down modifies the verb to fish. It is an adverbial clause.)
The Noun Clause. Here is an example of a subordinate clause acting as a noun:

  • Whoever dislikes the new timings is more than welcome to leave.
  • (The subordinate clause Whoever dislikes the new timings is the subject of this sentence. It is a noun clause.)

The Link between a Subordinate Clause and an Independent Clause

When a subordinate clause is used as an adjective or an adverb, it will usually be part of a complex sentence (i.e., a sentence with an independent clause and at least one subordinate clause).

The link between a subordinate clause and an independent clause will often be a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun. For example:

  • I fished until the sun went down.
  • (subordinating conjunction in bold)

  • The bull that charged us is back in the field.
  • (relative pronoun in bold)
Here are some more common subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns:

Common Subordinating Conjunctions Relative Pronouns
after
although
as
because
before
even if
even though
if
provided
rather than
since
so that
than
though
unless
until
whether
while
how
that
what
when
where
which
who
whom
whose
why

The relative pronouns above are the simple relative pronouns. You can also have compound ones. A compound relative pronoun is formed by adding either ever or soever to a simple pronoun.

whoever (who + ever)
whosever (whose + ever)
(Spelling rule: Don't allow ee.)
whosoever (who + soever)
whosesoever (whose + soever)




See also:

What is a clause?
What is an independent clause?
What are adjective clauses?
What are adverbial clauses?
What are noun clauses?
What is a subordinating conjunction?
What is a relative pronoun?
Glossary of grammatical terms
 
COMMAS WITH SUBORDINATE CLAUSES

The big question with a subordinate clause is whether to offset it with a comma (or commas). Here are the general rules:

When the subordinate clause is an adverb

When the subordinate clause starts with a subordinating conjunction (e.g., unless, because, as, until), it will be functioning as an adverb. When the clause starts the sentence, use a comma. If it ends the sentence, do not use a comma. For example (subordinate clauses shaded):

  • Until there are no more shoppers, keep singing.
  • (The subordinate clause is at the start, so a comma is needed.)
  • Keep singing until there are no more shoppers.
  • (The subordinate clause is at the end, so a comma is not needed.)
Read more about commas with subordinating conjunctions.

This works for all adverbial phrases. For example (adverbial phrases in bold):

  • At 4 o'clock, the bell will ring.
  • The bell will ring at 4 o'clock.
When the subordinate clause is an adjective

When the subordinate clause starts with a relative pronoun (e.g., which, who), it will be functioning as an adjective. Do not use a comma before your relative pronoun if the clause is essential for meaning. However, do use a comma if the clause is just additional information. For example:

  • My sister who lives in Moscow is getting married.
  • (From this we can infer that there is at least one other sister who doesn't live in Moscow. The clause is essential for meaning. It identifies what it modifies, i.e., it specifies which sister.)
  • My sister Rebecca, who lives in Moscow, is getting married.
  • (This time, the clause is just additional information. It needs commas.)
Here's a good tip: If you'd happily put parentheses () around your clause, it needs commas. (Commas, after all, are just a type of parenthetical punctuation.)

Read more about commas before relative pronouns.
 
 
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You cannot start a sentence with who or which unless it is a question (i.e., an interrogative sentence). For example:

  • I enjoy weeding. Which is helpful because I have a large garden.
Read more about who and which as interrogative pronouns.