A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate (which contains a verb). A clause can make up part of a sentence, or it can be a sentence on its own.

Independent clauses

An independent clause (also called a principle or a main clause) contains a subject and a predicate that together form a complete thought.

Example sentences:
After six weeks of data collection, the data was analyzed.
The counseling centre has many useful resources.
Shakespeare was a playwright whose work is now widely studied.

An independent clause (italicized in each example above) can stand alone as a complete sentence or represent only part of a sentence. In each case, the independent clause forms a complete thought.

Dependent clauses

As with an independent clause, a dependent clause contains a subject and a predicate, but it does not form a complete thought. When a dependent clause is written as its own sentence, it is a sentence fragment. This is because a dependent clause relies on an independent clause for its meaning and cannot stand alone as a sentence.

Example sentences:
After we collected our survey results, the data was analyzed.
Shakespeare was an English playwright, though his actual identity is debated.

In the first example, the dependent clause “After we collected our survey results” cannot standalone as a complete thought because it implies that something else happened without giving more detail. In the second example, the dependent clause “though his actual identity is debated” cannot stand alone as a complete thought because it implies a contrast with another idea.

How to distinguish between types of clauses

Look for subordinating words and phrases (such as whoever or even though) that create dependent relationships between two ideas in a sentence and are located at the beginning of a dependent clause. The two main types of subordinating words are subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns.

Subordinating conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions link two or more unequal ideas by indicating a relationship between the ideas, such as:

  • a cause and effect relationship

  • how the ideas contrast (are different)

  • time sequence between ideas

Some common subordinating conjunctions:

  • Cause and effect: because, since, if, in order to

  • Contrast: although, rather than, even though, despite

  • Time sequence: before, after, when, once

Example sentences:
Although many people believe that the concept of life beyond earth is impossible, many scientists and theorists have argued that extra-terrestrial life is a distinct possibility.
The audience was attentive because the speaker was a gifted speaker.

Relative pronouns

A relative pronoun takes the place of a noun (person, place, or thing) in a dependent clause as the subject or object of the clause.

Following is a list of commonly used relative pronouns:

  • those

  • whose

  • whoever

  • whom

  • that

  • which

Example sentences:
The United Nations is an inter-governmental organization whose goals are to create a better world.
Whoever oversees the experiment, they must use extreme caution.


In the following sentences underline all independent clauses and circle dependent clauses.

  1. Working while taking courses can be difficult, although it is worth avoiding student debt.

  2. I can drive you to work, as long as you are ready to leave by 8 A.M..

  3. Because this cat will not stop eating my plants, all my flowers keep dying.

  4. Whichever you choose, we still need your decision by Friday.

  5. You have to try this tea, as long as you are not allergic to bamboo.

  6. You still need to take English 1205, despite being a Science student.

  7. If Seth keeps throwing temper tantrums, I am not taking him to the pool party.

  8. This test will be easy, provided that you have spent time studying.

  9. She has not been the same, since the vending machine fell on her.

  10. These children are skilled Smore makers, as they practice at the campfire every night.