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Clause: Further reading: Types of clauses

Overview

The clause (often called 'simple sentence' in written English) is the basic building block of English grammar. An
understanding of the different types of clauses will help you with many of the discussions and descriptions
in PrimeGram. To help you quickly get an idea of what the various types of clauses are, go to any of the files listed
here. There you will find a brief description of the clause type, together with links to the various areas of the grammar
where the clause is discussed in context.
For more information, click on the menu on the left:
Independent clauses
Dependent clauses
Non-finite clauses
Adverbial clauses
Embedded clauses
Relative clauses
Noun clauses
Minor clauses

Independent clauses

An independent clause is a clause (or simple sentence) that can stand on its own:
Last night Mrs Gong wrote a long letter to Dotty's teacher.
Kitty liked her new dress very much.
Bozo stayed at school long after class.
These are examples of a clause type called 'declarative', typically used to express a Statement. Other types are
interrogative (yes/nointerrogative and wh- interrogative) and imperative, typically used to make a Question and a
Command respectively:
When are you coming home? [wh- interrogative]
Are the children at home yet? [yes/no interrogative]
Be quiet! [imperative]
Independent clauses may be 'major' or 'minor'. Major clauses express major speech functions, ie Statement,
Question, Command and Offer, and they are either in the declarative, interrogative or imperative 'mood'. In an
independent clause the mood is usually expressed by a Subject and Finite whereas in a dependent clause there may
be no Subject or Finite. Minor clauses express minor speech functions, such as Greetings (Good Morning!,
Welcome!), Calls (Dotty!, Hey!) and Exclamations (Wow!, Ouch!), and they are not in any 'mood', ie they are not
declarative, interrogative or imperative, and do not have a Subject or Finite.

Dependent clauses

A dependent clause is a clause that cannot stand on its own, either because it is 'non-finite' (ie its main verb is non-
finite) or because it is introduced by a subordinating conjunction (because, while, where etc) or another connective
with a similar function:
because Dotty was ill
which her mother had bought her
to practise football
returning home late
Clauses such as these must be combined with an independent (main) clause in a complex sentence, also called
clause complex:
Mrs Gong wrote to the teacher because Dotty was ill.
Kitty liked the new dress, which her mother had bought her.
Bozo stayed at school after class to practise football.
Dependent clauses in a clause complex can usually come either first or second:
Because Dotty was ill, Mrs Gong wrote to her teacher.
To practise football, Bozo stayed at school after class.
Dependent clauses expressing a meaning relationships of the ie / eg type, such as which her mother had bought
her, cannot come first as they provide a kind of descriptive gloss to the independent or main clause.
Dependent clauses in meaning relationships of the how / when / where / why type are sometimes called 'adverbial
clauses'.
Dependent clauses may be finite or non-finite:
Ricky stayed in his room to prepare for his exam. [non-finite]
Preparing for his exam, Ricky had little time for anything else. [non-finite]
Ricky studied very hard because his exam was very important. [finite]
Non-finite clauses

A non-finite clause has a non-finite verb as its main verb:
Bozo stayed at school after class // to practise football.
non-finite clause
Walking to school // Bozo saw a bus accident.
non-finite clause
Frightened by the ghost, I ran away.
-ed form
The non-finite verb is either in the to-infinitive form, the -ing form or the -ed form. Non-finite clauses cannot stand
alone but must be combined with an independent clause in a 'complex sentence' or clause complex, as in the
examples here.

Adverbial clauses

An adverbial clause answers how, when, where and why questions about another clause:
Kitty liked to read // when she had finished her homework.
adverbial clause: time
Bozo looked under the table // where Barney was sleeping.
adverbial clause: place
Ricky went out to play // because he had done his
homework.
adverbial clause: reason
An adverbial clause is a dependent clause and so cannot stand on its own. Like other dependent clauses, it must be
combined with an independent or main clause in a clause complex, as in these examples.
Adverbial clauses can usually come first or second in a clause complex:
Because Dotty was ill, she was allowed to stay home.
Dotty was allowed to stay home because she was ill.
If the Subject in both clauses is the same, we usually use a noun (common noun or proper noun) in one clause and a
pronoun in the other. The noun is commonly used in the first clause and the pronoun in the second. However, if the
adverbial clause comes first, then it is also possible to use the pronoun in the first clause and the noun in the second:
Because she was ill, Dotty was allowed to stay home.
Adverbial clauses may be finite or non-finite, taking the -ing form or the to-infinitive form:
To be at school on time, Ricky caught a bus. [to-infinitive]
Running really hard, Bozo got there first. [-ing form]
For more information see:
Embedded clauses

Embedded clause as Post-Modifier in noun group
An embedded clause most commonly functions as a Post-Modifier in the noun group:
Miss Lee liked students who asked lots of questions.
n o u n g r o u p
noun embedded clause [= Post-Modifier]
The embedded clause who asked lots of questions tells us what kind of students Miss Lee liked. The embedded
clause is known as a 'defining relative clause' because it defines, or further specifies, the main noun in the noun
group. Such clauses are called 'embedded' because they are part of a noun group in the main clause, eg Miss Lee
liked students who asked lots of questions. (Note : Embedded clauses of the type 'defining relative clause'
contrast with 'non-defining relative clauses', eg Bozo loved his dog, which was his best friend. A 'non-defining relative
clause' is not embedded but combined with another clause in a clause complex.)
Embedded clauses functioning as Post-Modifiers are usually linked to the main clause by one of the relative pronouns
(who, which, that, whose). The relative pronoun can be omitted, especially in informal language:
"My mother only buys things she's seen advertised," said Kitty.
If the embedded clause is non-finite, no connective is used:
Mr Wing drove the bus carrying the younger students.
Mr Gong was the right person to coach the soccer team.
Embedded clause as Post-Modifier in adjective group or adverb group
An embedded clause may also function as a Post-Modifier in an adjective group or adverb group:
Dotty was happy to see her friend.
a d j e c t i v e g r o u p
adjective embedded clause [= Post-Modifier]
Ricky won his race more easily than he had expected.
a d v e r b g r o u p
comparative adverb embedded clause [= Post-Modifier]
Here the embedded clauses tells us why Dotty was happy, and how easily Ricky won his race.
When an embedded clause provides more information about an adjective or adverb group, it is usually linked to the
main clause by a conjunction (than, as if). However, if the embedded clause is non-finite (as in happy to see her
friend), no connective is used.

Embedded clause as nominalisation of a Process
An embedded clause may also function in the same way as a noun in the structure of a clause:
Catching the ghost wasn't easy.
embedded clause
Subject
This type of clause, ie catching the ghost, is known as a 'nominalisation' of a Process (including any associated
Participants and Circumstances) and functions like a noun or noun group. The embedded clause (or nominalisation)
expresses the Subject in the clause. The Subject answers the question 'what wasn't easy?', which is typically
answered by a noun group, eg:
Mental arithmetic wasn't easy for Grandpa.
noun group
Other common forms of nominalised clauses use that or a wh- word to introduce the clause:
That Barney didn't like his kennel was quite obvious.
What Granny Gong wanted to do was difficult.
Embedded clauses with wh- are commonly used to make the Process the Theme of the main clause.
Relative clauses

Relative clauses are either 'defining' or 'non-defining':
Kitty likes movies which have animals in them. [which movies does Kitty like?]
n o u n g r o u p
noun defining relative clause
Granny had three grandchildren, whom she loved. [what else can we say about the grandchildren?]
main clause non-defining relative clause
In the first example, the defining relative clause which have animals in them tells us what kinds of movies Kitty likes,
ie it defines, or further specifies, the noun group movies. Defining relative clauses are 'embedded' clauses that are
typically part of a noun group in the main clause. In this example movies which have animals in them is one noun
group.
A defining relative clause is usually attached to the noun of the main clause by a relative pronoun (who, which, that,
whom, whose) if the relative clause is finite, or with no connective if the relative clause is non-finite. The relative
pronoun can be omitted, especially in informal language, both spoken and written:
"Dotty only reads books she has to read for school," said Kitty.
n o u n g r o u p
noun embedded clause
In the example Granny had three grandchildren, whom she loved. the non-defining relative clause whom she
loved provides additional information about the grandchildren. A non-defining relative clause may add information
about a whole clause or just some element of a clause:
Kitty thanked her teacher, which was a nice thing to do. [adds information about whole clause]
main clause non-defining relative clause
Kitty thanked her teacher, who was a nice person. [adds information about part of clause]
main clause non-defining relative clause
A non-defining relative clause is usually attached to the main clause by a relative pronoun (who, which, whom,
whose), immediately following the item for which additional information is provided. This is usually a noun or the whole
clause.
Punctuation provides important clues as to which type of relative clause we are dealing with:

non-defining relative clause: comma between main clause and relative clause

defining relative clause: no comma between main clause and relative clause
Noun clauses

In traditional grammar a 'noun clause' is considered a clause that functions like a noun. There are two main categories
of such noun clauses: nominalisations and report clauses.
Nominalisations
A clause that is 'nominalised' functions as a noun (or noun group) in the structure of a clause:
That MegaMonster had stolen their water angered the
children.
noun clause
In this example the entire noun clause could be replaced with a single word, eg this or it (ie it angered the
children), which shows that the noun clause functions like a single noun or pronoun.
A clause nominalisation functions most commonly as the Subject or Complement in a 'naming and describing' clause,
using verbs like be, represent, express, become. A nominalisation may also be used in clauses of other types, eg
'doing' clauses or 'thinking and feeling' clauses.
Clause nominalisations often use the relative pronoun that, wh- words (what, where, why etc) and whether or if to
introduce the nominalisation:
That Granny Gong was a detective impressed Bozo's friends.
What his friends liked about Bozo was his courage.
Where Bozo had been was a mystery.
The question was whether / if Granny could catch GrumpyGhost.
Clause nominalisations with that can usually be preceded by the fact:
The fact that Granny Gong was a detective impressed Bozo's friends.

Report clauses
Report clauses are often considered as another type of noun clause. In report clause a speaker makes a report, using
'indirect speech':
Kitty told Granny that their water had been
stolen.
noun clause
We could restate the general meaning, or gist, of the noun clause in a nominalisation:
Kitty told Granny about the theft of their
water.
noun
The nominalisation theft is part of a prepositional phrase (about the theft of their water) which functions as
Circumstance in the clauseKitty told Granny about the theft of their water.
By contrast, the noun clause that their water had been stolen is not an element in a clause but one of two clauses in a
complex sentence (or clause complex). We can see this more clearly if we compare this sentence with a sentence
using 'direct speech':
Kitty said to Granny: "Our water has been stolen." [direct speech]
quoting clause quoted clause
Kitty told Granny that their water had been stolen. [indirect
speech]
reporting clause reported clause
Both the reported clause and the quoted clause represent a piece of language that is attributed to a speaker. In both
cases, the quoted clause and the reported clause are part of a complex sentence (or clause complex).
Minor clauses

Minor clauses are typically used to express minor speech functions:
Good Morning / Welcome / Hello / Hi / Goodbye / Goodnight [Greetings]
Dotty! Hey! [Calls]
Wow! / Ouch! / Nonsense! / Rubbish! / What a mess! [Exclamations]
Help! / Fire! [Alarms]
Minor clauses do not have a finite verb, and are therefore neither declarative, interrogative or imperative. However,
they are independent clauses.