Independent and Dependent Clauses

What is a clause?
A clause is a group of words containing a subject and a verb.  It can be either independent or dependent (subordinate).

What is an independent clause?
An independent clause can stand alone as a complete grammatical sentence. It contains the main subject and verb of the sentence. It may or may not have an object.  Also remember, in English, the sentence order is Subject, Verb, (Object).  For example:

  • The cat is in the room.

The cat             is                      in the room.
Subject             Verb                Prepositional Phrase Showing Place

  • John hit his sister.

John                 hit                     his sister.
Subject             Verb                Object

What is a dependent (or subordinate) clause?
A dependent clause cannot stand alone as a grammatical sentence because of an extra element that changes an independent clause into a dependent clause.  It must always be connected to an independent clause. For example:

  • Because I was late

          Extra element   +       Independent clause                                         = Dependent clause
Because                       I                       was                  late
Subject             Verb                Adjective

  • When I miss the bus

          Extra element   +       Independent clause                                         = Dependent clause
When                           I                       miss                  the bus
Subject             Verb                Object

The following sentences are examples of dependent clauses connected to independent clauses:

  • Because I was late, I had to run all the way to school.

          Dependent clause        +                     Independent clause                             = Complex Sentence
Because I was late                                I had to run all the way to school.

  • I must drive to school when I miss the bus.

          Independent clause     +                     Dependent clause                                = Complex Sentence
I must drive to school                           when I miss the bus.

 What is a sentence fragment?
A sentence fragment is not syntactically complete.  It may express a complete idea, but it does not follow standard, grammatical sentence structure.  To correct these fragments, add the missing component.  The following are examples of this type of sentence fragment:

  • Lives in Virginia.                        (lacks a subject)
  • He in Virginia.                           (lacks a verb)
  • In Virginia.                                (lacks both a subject and a verb)

Fragments may also be a dependent clause and, therefore, cannot stand alone as a grammatical sentence.  To correct these fragments, combine them with an independent clause or change them into an independent clause.  The following are examples of this type of sentence fragment:

  • Because I was late.                   (dependent clause)
  • Who lives in Virginia.                (adjective clause)
  • I missed the bus but.                 (clause with a coordinating conjunction)

What is a run-on sentence?
A run-on sentence is two independent clauses with neither proper punctuation nor a conjunction between them.  To correct these run-on sentences, add a semi-colon, a period, or a comma and a coordinating conjunction.  The following are examples of this type of run-on sentence:

  • He is my uncle he lives in Virginia.
  • Ellen missed the bus she ran all the way to school.
  • She lost the doctor’s phone number she called her mother.

Another type of run-on is a comma splice.  This sentence has two or more independent clauses joined by a comma but not with a coordinating conjunction.  To correct these run-on sentences, separate them with a semicolon, a period, or add a coordinating conjunction after the comma.  The following are examples of this type of run-on sentence.

  • He is my uncle, he lives in Virginia.
  • Ellen missed the bus, she ran all the way to school.
  • She lost the doctor’s phone number, she called her mother.
Last updated 9/23/2009
Posted in Grammar and Sentence Mechanics, Grammar Resources, Writing Resources