What Is an Independent Clause? (with Examples)

Independent Clause (with Examples)

An independent clause is a clause that can stand alone as a sentence (i.e., it expresses a complete thought).

An independent clause, like all clauses, has a subject and verb.

When there are no dependent clauses in the same sentence as an independent clause, the independent clause is a simple sentence. For example:
  • I like coconut macaroons.
  • (This is an independent clause and a simple sentence.)
  • I like coconut macaroons even though I dislike coconut.
  • (This is an independent clause and a dependent clause. This is an example of a complex sentence.)

Examples of Independent Clauses

Here are some examples of independent clauses (shaded). Notice how they could stand alone as sentences. (This is the difference between an independent clause and a dependent clause.)
  • Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep. (Fran Lebowitz)
  • The best defense against the atom bomb is not to be there when it goes off. (Anon)
  • I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something. (Jackie Mason)
  • Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there. (Will Rogers, 1879-1935)
  • My one regret in life is that I am not someone else. (Woody Allen)

The Main Types of Sentence

Being able to spot an independent clause and a dependent clause is key to identifying the type of sentence. For example, a sentence with two or more independent clauses is called a compound sentence, and one with an independent clause and at least one dependent clause is called a complex sentence. Here are the basic types of sentence with the independent clauses shaded: Understanding the types of sentence is important for comma placement.

Use a Comma before a Conjunction That Joins Two Independent Clauses

Writers are often unsure whether to use a comma before a coordinate conjunction (i.e., a word like and and but). You should use a comma before a coordinate conjunction that joins two independent clauses. For example:
  • Toby is smart, and punctual.
  • He is smart, and he is punctual.
  • (There is a comma before and because it joins two independent clauses.)
Read more about commas before conjunctions.

Use a Comma to Show Where Your Independent Clause Starts

If your sentence starts with a dependent clause that is functioning as an adverb (e.g., it provides a time, a place, or a reason for the main clause), then offset it with a comma to show where the independent clause (i.e., the main clause) starts.
  • When the game has finished, the king and pawn go in the same box. (Italian Proverb)
  • (Use a comma to mark the end of the dependent clause and to show where the independent clause starts.)
There is usually no comma when the dependent clause comes at the end.
  • The king and pawn go in the same box when the game has finished.
Read more about comma placement with adverbial clauses and adjective clauses.

See Also

What is a clause? What is a sentence? What is the subject of a sentence? What are verbs? What is a dependent clause? What is a simple sentence? What is a complex sentence? What is a compound sentence? What are coordinate conjunctions? Commas before conjunctions