Dependent Clauses

Dependent clauses are clauses that cannot form sentences on their own. In this lesson, we will learn all about dependent clauses.

What Are Dependent Clauses in English?

What Are Dependent Clauses?

Dependent Clauses (also called subordinate or embedded clauses) are clauses that have a subject and a verb but cannot express a complete thought. Therefore, they need another clause to imply a meaningful idea. Dependent clauses are not used on their own, but can function as adjectives or adverbs within a sentence.

Dependent Clauses: Types

We can categorize dependent clauses into two main groups, each of which has different subcategories:

Finite Dependent Clauses

Finite dependent clauses contain a subject and a conjugated verb, and they can function as adjectives, adverbs, or nouns within a sentence. They cannot function as a complete predicate because they require an independent clause to form a complete sentence. We have three types of finite dependent clauses:

  1. Subordinate Clauses
  2. Relative Clauses
  3. That-clauses
  4. Expletive Clauses

Subordinate Clauses

Subordinate dependent clauses are groups of words that contain a subject and a verb but cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. They depend on an independent clauses to make sense and convey a complete thought.

Subordinating Clauses: Form

Subordinate Clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions, such as:

  1. Reason: because, since, as, due to, as if
  2. Time: before, after, once, when, while
  3. Concession: although, though, whether, while, even though
  4. Place: where, wherever, everywhere, anywhere
  5. Conditional: if, unless, as long as, assuming that, in case

Subordinate Clauses: Function

Subordinate dependent clauses can function as nouns, adverbs or adjectives within a sentence. They provide additional information, describe something, or show the relationship between ideas. Take a look at some examples:

The streets were flooded because of all the rain.

In this sentence, 'because of all the rain' functions as an adverb of reason.

The house where I grew up is still standing.

In this sentence, 'where I grew up' functions as an adjective which modifies the noun 'house'.

She asked if I wanted to go to the movies.

Here, 'if I wanted to go to the movies' is a subordinate clause that functions as a noun.

Relative Clauses

Relative clauses are typically clauses that modify a noun or noun phrase and give more information about it.

Relative Clauses: Form

Relative clauses are introduced by a relative pronoun, a relative adverb, or a relative determiner, such as:

Relative Clauses: Function

Relative clauses mainly function as adjectives within the sentence, modifying and providing more information about a noun, a pronoun, or a noun phrase that comes before them in the sentence.

This is my father who visited us last night.

The book, which I was reading last night, was amazing.

using a dependent clause in a sentence


A "that-clause" is a type of dependent clause in English grammar that starts with the word "that." It functions as a single unit within a sentence and typically serves one of several purposes, such as:

  • Direct object: It can serve as the direct object of a verb, typically expressing what someone believes, thinks, says, or knows. For example:

She believes that he is telling the truth.

I know that you can do it.

  • Complement: It can function as a complement to an adjective, a noun or a subject, providing additional information or description. For example:

His goal is that he wants to succeed. → subject complement

She was certain that she had made the right decision. → adjective complement

The scientist's claim that the experiment was successful was supported by data. → noun complement

  • Subject: A "that-clause" can serve as the subject of a sentence or clause, and it often expresses an idea, statement, or action. When it functions as the subject, it typically introduces the main topic or subject matter of the sentence. For example:

That she won the competition was a surprise.

That she arrived early pleased the organizers.

Expletive Clauses

An expletive clause is a type of clause that begins with the words "it" or "there" and serve as a placeholder for the subject of the sentence. Expletive clauses are also called "dummy clauses" because they do not add any meaning to the sentence, but rather simply provide a grammatical structure. Expletive clauses are commonly used in English to create emphasis, introduce a topic, or shift the focus of the sentence. For example:

It is important to exercise regularly.

As you can see, the word "it" is acting as a placeholder for the subject of the sentence.

There is no reason to cry.

Non-finite Dependent Clauses

A non-finite clause is a type of dependent or embedded clause that does not have a specific tense. This means that it does not indicate whether the action or state described in the clause occurs before, during, or after the time of speaking. There are two main types of non-finite dependent clauses in English:

Infinitive Clauses

An infinitive clause is a type of dependent clause that does not have a grammatical subject, and therefore, the verb is not conjugated.

Infinitive Clauses: Form

There are two types of infinitive clauses based on the presence or absence of the preposition 'to' before the infinitive verb:

  1. with 'to': To-infinitives
  2. without 'to': Bare infinitives

To-infinitives: Functions

To-infinitive clauses can serve as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs within a sentence. Pay attention to the examples:

I have decided to go to Iran for holidays.

nominal, object of the sentence

To leave the building unlocked would seem foolish.

nominal, subject of the sentence

I need a pen to write my notes.

adjectival, modifying the noun 'pen'

To quench his thirst, he drank the whole jar.

adverbial, telling about the reason of the action of the verb

Bare Infinitives: Functions

Bare infinitive clauses can only function as nouns and therefore can be used as objects in the sentence. Look at some examples:

Let us swim in the pool.

He made me cry every night before sleep.

Participle Clauses

Participle clauses are subordinate, non-finite clauses that begin with a participle. They are used to reduce the length or complexity of a sentence or structure.

Participle Clauses: Form

There are different types of participles and accordingly, different types of participle clauses, including:

Present Participle Clauses: Functions

Present participle clauses begin with a present participle and can act as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. Pay attention to the examples:

Eating in this restaurant is very expensive.

present participle clause as a noun (gerund)

Look at those old men sitting on a bench.

present participle clause as an adjective

Seeing me in that state, he got so sad.

present participle clause as an adverb

Past Participle Clauses: Functions

Past participle clauses begin with a past participle and they act as adjectives or adverbs. Take a look at the examples:

Alan, driven by madness, started spying on his wife.

past participle clause as an adverb

I was left with my heart broken into a thousand little pieces.

past participle clause as an adjective

Perfect Participle Clauses: Functions

Perfect participle clauses begin with have + a past participle and they act as adjectives and adverbs. For example:

Having been killed in his own building, the neighbors were the very first witnesses.

perfect participle clause as an adverb of reason

The broken vase, having been dropped by accident, laid shattered on the floor.

perfect participle clause as an adjective modifying the noun 'vase'.

Position in a Sentence

As you can see, based on the context, dependent clauses can be used at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence. For example:

While I was talking to the teacher, she entered the class.

She entered the class, while I was talking to the teacher.

The man that I saw yesterday is his father.

Punctuation Rules

If the dependent clause comes at the beginning of the sentence, it is followed by a comma; but when the independent clause comes first and the dependent clause is at the end of the sentence, there is no need for a comma.
Non-restrictive dependent clauses that appear in the middle of the sentence are put between two commas. Check out the examples:

Before you get out of the house, make sure you switched off the lights.

Make sure you switched off the lights before you get out of the house.

Those people, who were standing by the door, are just protesting for their rights.


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A clause is a group of words that has a subject and a predicate. In this lesson, we will discuss clauses in English grammar.

Relative Clauses

Relative clauses give us more information about people and things. They are used to combine clauses and avoid repetition. Click here to learn!

Nominal Relative Clauses

Nominal relative clauses are used as different parts of speeches and act as a noun or a noun phrase. Click here to learn more!

Independent Clauses

Independent clauses can stay alone and they are used as a whole meaningful sentence. In this lesson, we will learn about them.

Restrictive and Non-restrictive Clauses

Restrictive clauses and phrases are necessary while non-restrictive clauses are not necessary for the sentence to have a meaningful thought.

Participle Clauses

To get to know participle clauses, first of all, you have to be familiar with the concept of participles and clauses separately.

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