Dependent Clauses (Subordinate Clauses)

When we communicate, either through spoken or written word, we often use complex ideas that make use of various parts of speech. One important aspect of more complex sentence structuring is the dependent clause, also referred to as the subordinate clause. In this tutorial, you will learn what a dependent clause is, how to identify it, the different types, its functions and how to use it correctly.

Definition of a Dependent Clause

A dependent clause, also known as a subordinate clause, is a type of clause that cannot stand alone as a complete sentence because it does not express a complete thought. It usually contains a subject and a predicate, but it needs to be connected to an independent clause to form a complete sentence.

Take note that an independent clause is a clause that can stand on its own as a complete sentence because it expresses a complete thought.

Formation of Dependent Clauses

A dependent clause is typically formed by a combination of a subordinating conjunction or relative pronoun and a subject and predicate. The subordinating conjunctions or relative pronouns give the clause its 'dependent' status because they hint that the clause is providing extra information to another clause in the sentence.

For example:

  • Although it was raining, we decided to go out.
  • This is the house where I was born

In the above examples, the words “although” and “where” are what make the clauses dependent. Without the rest of the sentence, these clauses wouldn't make much sense.

Types of Dependent Clauses

There are three main types of dependent clauses: adverbial clauses, adjective clauses (relatives clauses), and noun clauses.

Adverbial Clauses

An adverbial clause is a dependent clause that functions as an adverb. This means, much like a single-word adverb, an adverbial clause modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb. It usually answers the questions how, where, when, why, and to what extent.

For example:

  • She cried because she was feeling homesick.
  • When the tutor arrived, they started the lesson.

Adjective Clauses (Relative Clauses)

An adjective clause, also known as a relative clause, is a dependent clause that functions as an adjective. This means, just like a single-word adjective, an adjective clause modifies a noun or pronoun.

For example:

  • I enjoy reading books, which is something my dad loved to do.
  • The cake that my sister baked was delicious.

Noun Clauses

A noun clause is a dependent clause that functions as a noun. This means, like a single-word noun, a noun clause can be a subject, an object, or a complement.

For example:

  • What you said was very interesting.
  • I can't remember where I put my keys.

Dependent Clauses in Sentences

When using dependent clauses in sentences, remember these rules:

1. Positioning: A dependent clause can come before or after the independent clause. Commas are used depending on the position. If the dependent clause comes at the beginning of the sentence, a comma is usually used. For instance: "Although it was raining, we decided to go out."

2. Capitalization: Only capitalize the first word of the dependent clause if it starts the sentence.


Understanding dependent clauses is important to create complex, nuanced sentences. By correctly using dependent clauses, you can add depth and flavor to your sentences, making your writing more detailed and engaging.

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