7 English Grammar Clauses Every Writer Should Know

English grammar clauses can make identifying parts of speech a tad confusing, but this guide should clear things up.

A clause is a group of words that has at least one subject and one verb. It may or may not be a complete sentence, but it will have that distinction of the subject and verb combo. Clauses make English writing more interesting because they let you break free from the simple sentence structure alone.

As you work to master the English language, clauses can be one of the hardest parts to master. English grammar clauses can function as many different parts of speech, and independent clauses can even look like separate sentences.

Here is a closer look at the different types of clauses you can come across in your reading and writing.

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Exploring English Grammar Clauses for Clearer Writing

English grammar clauses every writer should know

Before you let clauses trip you up in your writing, make sure you understand the different types of clauses you can come across. Using clauses well helps you create complex sentence patterns that are interesting to those reading your writing.

1. Independent Clause

The independent clause is the main clause in the sentence. An independent clause states a full thought and can stand alone as a complete sentence.

In fact, a simple sentence is just one independent clause without additional phrases added in, while a compound sentence is two or more independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction or punctuation.

Examples:

  • The dog ran across the street.
  • The woman wept. 

2. Subordinate Clause

A subordinate clause does not have a complete thought, so it is also called a dependent clause and if written on its own is a sentence fragment. It starts with a subordinating conjunction and functions as a part of speech in the sentence.

The pattern typically is subordinating conjunction followed by the subject and the verb.

Examples: 

  • When the dog ran across the street he was almost hit by a car
  • Because the woman wept her family comforted her.

3. Adjective Clause

An adjective clause starts with a relative pronoun, such as who, whom, whose, which or that, or a relative adverb, such as when, where or why. An adjective clause functions as an adjective. The entire group of words modifies the subject or another noun or pronoun in the sentence.

Examples

  • The man whom we had never met came over and greeted us warmly.
  • The conductor who led the marching band was impressed with his players' performance. 

4. Adverbial Clause

An adverb clause modifies the predicate or another adverb in the sentence. These also often start with subordinating conjunctions like because, unless, when, although and if. They answer questions like how, when, where, why and to what extent, just like adverbs.

Examples:

  • When Johnathan left the house, he forgot his keys.
  • After she graduated from college, Sandra got a job as a nurse.

5. Noun Clause

If a group of words with a subject and verb functions as a noun, it becomes a noun clause. You can identify these by checking to see if you can remove the group of words and replace it with a pronoun or noun. 

Examples:

  • You should ask what grandma adds to her cake to make it so sweet.
  • Please thank whoever chose to bring chocolate cake to the party.

6. Relative Clause

A relative clause starts with a relative pronoun, such as that, who or which. It is a type of adjective clause. If the relative clause is necessary for the understanding of the sentence, it is not offset with commas, but if it is not, then comma placement shows this fact.

Examples:

  • She fell in love with Tom, who had a dashing personality.
  • The dog that whined loudly was the one they picked at the shelter.

7. Conditional Clause

A conditional clause uses words like if or unless to show something that is possible or probable but not necessarily guaranteed. They cannot stand alone without the rest of the sentence, making them dependent.

Examples:

  • If it starts to rain, we will have to go inside.
  • Unless you start putting in more effort, you will likely fail math.

A Final Word On English Grammar Clauses

Groups of words with both a subject and verb are known as clauses. In English grammar, clauses can be confusing because they add a subject-verb pattern to the sentence, but they may not include the actual subject and verb of the main sentence.

To find clauses and distinguish them from the main sentence, first, ask yourself what is the main action of the sentence. Then, identify the subject that goes with that verb, and any direct objects or prepositional phrases that are part of the main idea.

Any additional subject-verb patterns are likely clauses providing extra information to the sentence.

Remember, a clause can serve as a noun, adjective, adverb or main idea of the sentence. Learning to identify them and then use them in your writing will make you a better writer.

FAQs on English Grammar Clauses

What are clauses in English grammar?

A clause is a word phrase or group that has a subject and verb. A sentence is an independent clause, but there are dependent clauses that cannot stand on their own, but still contain their own subject and verb.

Is a prepositional phrase a clause?

No, prepositional phrases have a preposition and object of the proposition, but no verb. A clause must have a subject-verb pattern, so a prepositional phrase is not a clause.

Author

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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