A clause is a group of words that contains a complete skeleton (i.e. a complete thought that can stand alone as a sentence) Example:
"The dog eats the dinner"
This clause forms a complete thought. It is a transitive active skeleton in which "dog" is the subject, "eats" is the verb and "dinner" is the direct object.
When a speaker or author wishes to connect two clauses together when one clause is to be subordinate to another, it is possible to combine the two clauses into a single, complex sentence and express the dependency by introducing the dependent clause with a subordinating conjunction. Here is an example of this kind of complex sentence:
"When Quintus enters the field, Flaccus calls him."
The word "when" is a subordinating conjunction and so introduces a dependent clause. The dependent clause is a complete thought "Quintus enters the field" but the use of "when" shows its dependency upon the main clause, "Flaccus calls him". The main clause "Flaccus call him" can stand alone as a complete sentence. The dependent clause is simply modifying the main clause in order to enrich the sentence.
Dependent clauses fall into one of three categories. The most common type of dependent clause is the adverbial clause. These clauses describe the action of the verb in the clause the dependent clause is subordinate to. As such, they are equivalent to adverbs. In the example above, the "When" clause is adverbial because it tells the time when the action of calling took place. Adjectival clauses act like adjectives. Noun clauses (which will be discussed later) are noun equivalents.
Select the type of dependent clause that you would like to know more about. There are also lists of subordinating conjunctions used for that type of dependent clause under each topic:
Last Updated March 18, 2003
Questions, comments and corrections should be sent to Brian K. Harvey, Kent State University