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 words that are placed beside each other but cannot express a complete thought. Therefore, they need another clause to imply a meaningful concept. Dependent clauses are not used on their own.

Types of Dependent Clauses

We can categorize dependent clauses into two main groups and each has different subcategories:

Finite Dependent Clauses

Finite dependent clauses contain a conjugated verb and can function as a predicate. We have three types of finite dependent clauses:

  1. Subordinating Clauses
  2. Relative Clauses
  3. Expletive Clauses

Subordinating Clauses

Subordinating clauses do not express a complete unit of thought on their own; they depend on independent clauses to form a complete idea.

Subordinating Clauses: Form

Subordinating Clauses begin with subordinate 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

Subordinating Clauses: Function

All dependent clauses that are created by subordinate conjunctions act as an adverb in a sentence. 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.

When the meal was finished, Kim made coffee.

In this sentence, 'when the meal was finished' functions as an adverb of time.

Relative Clauses

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

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 can have three main functions in a sentence:

Nominal Relative Clauses

Nominal relative clauses are introduced by nominal relative pronouns. They are nominal because they act as objects, subjects, or complements for the main clause.

When you saw me doesn't matter.

'When you saw me' acts as a subject for 'doesn't matter.'

Call it what you want.

'What you want' is the complement of 'it is.'

I do whatever you say.

'Whatever you say' is the object of 'do.'

Adjectival Relative Clauses

Adjective clauses modify a preceding noun or a noun phrase. In other words, they act as an adjective for the independent clause.

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

Adverbial Relative Clauses

Relative adverbs have an adverbial part of speech in a sentence and they introduce adjectival clauses that act as an adjective for the preceding noun/noun phrase. Relative adverbs are as follows: when, where, why, and how. For example:

I don't remember the day when you saw me.

I know the school where you studied chemistry.

Expletive Clauses

Expletive clauses are a type of noun clause that is placed into a sentence to fulfill the basic meaning of the sentence.

Expletive Clauses: Form

Expletive clauses are special types of noun clauses that begin with expletives:

Expletive Clauses: Function

they are nominal, therefore they can at as a noun or adjective in a sentence:

The fact that he is here now is all that matters.

In this sentence, 'that he is here now' is an adjective modifying the noun 'fact.'

I don't know if it is snowing.

In this sentence, 'if it is snowing' is the object of the sentence.

Non-finite Dependent Clauses

A non-finite clause is a dependent or embedded clause that has no tense, i.e. it does not show whether a state or event takes place before, during, or after the time o speaking. We have two types of non-finite dependent clauses:

Infinitive Clauses

Infinitive clauses are a kind of dependent clause in which there is no grammatical subject and therefore the verb is not conjugated.

Infinitive Clauses: Form

There are two types of to-infinitive clauses based on having or not having the preposition 'to.'

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

To-infinitives: Functions

To-infinitive clauses can have three different functions:

  1. Nominal to-infinitives
  2. Adjectival to-infinitives
  3. Adverbial to-infinitives

Now, take a look at some examples for each of these functions:

I have decided to go to Iran for my holidays.

nominal, object of the sentence

To leave the building unlocked would seem foolish.

nominal, subject of the sentence

He is disappointed to end up here.

adjectival, modifying the adjective 'disappointed'

To quench his thirst, he drank the whole jar.

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

Bare Infinitives: Functions

Bare infinitives 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 take a long sentence or structure and make it shorter.

Participle Clauses: Form

There are different types of participles, therefore, different types of participle clauses. We have:

Present Participle Clauses: Functions

Present participle clauses begin with a present participle and they act as:

  • nouns
  • adjectives
  • adverbs

Take a look at an example for each function:

Eating in this restaurant is very expensive.

present participle clause as a noun

Look at that three 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

Present participle clauses begin with a past participle and they act as:

  • adjectives
  • adverbs

Take a look at an example for each function:

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

Present participle clauses begin with have + a past participle and they act as:

  • adjective
  • adverbs

Take a look at an example for each function:

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

perfect participle clause as an adverb of reason

The girl having cooked tonight's dinner is a chef in a famous restaurant.

perfect participle clause as an adjective

Position in a Sentence

As you can see, based on the sentence, the dependent clauses can be used at the beginning, at 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 first, it is followed by a comma; but when the independent clause comes first, it is not followed by a comma.
Non-restrictive dependent clauses 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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