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Clause: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Are Clauses?
  • 0:45 Independent Clause
  • 1:15 Dependent Clause
  • 2:00 Relative Clause
  • 4:10 Noun Clause
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Vineski
In this lesson, you'll learn what a clause is and how to use different types of clauses to make your writing more interesting. Take a look at some examples to help understand the types.

What Are Clauses?

We need clauses. We need them to express our thoughts, and we need them to express our feelings. We need them to say things like, 'That lasagna we had last night was delicious' or 'Gary should join the choir, no matter what his friends say.' We need clauses to express our likes and dislikes. We need them to say things like 'I love a good curry, especially with coconut milk' or 'Ghost stories are a lot of fun, if you tell them late at night with the lights off.' We need clauses to express ourselves, and communicate that expression to others.

A clause is a group of related words containing a subject that tells readers what the sentence is about, and a verb that tells readers what the subject is doing. A clause comes in four types; independent, dependent, relative or noun clause.

Independent Clause

An independent clause, also called a main clause, is a clause that can stand on its own. It contains all the information necessary to be a complete sentence. An independent clause has a subject that tells you what the sentence is about and a verb that tells you what the subject is doing. It expresses a complete thought, relaying that something has happened or was said.

  • For example, in the sentence, 'My dog loves pizza crusts,' the subject is dog, the verb is loves and your reader now knows that 'your dog loves pizza crusts,' making it a complete thought.

Dependent Clause

A dependent clause, also called a subordinate clause, is a clause that cannot stand on its own because it does not contain all the information necessary to be a complete sentence. A clause is dependent because of the presence of words such as before, after, because, since, in order to, although, and though.

  • For example, if you begin the sentence 'My dog loves pizza crusts' with Because, you still have the subject, dog, and the verb, loves, but it is now an incomplete thought, 'Because my dog loves pizza crusts.'
  • To complete the thought, you must attach the dependent, or subordinate, clause to an independent, or main, clause. For example 'Because my dog loves pizza crusts, he never barks at the deliveryman.' The thought is now complete, and your reader knows that 'because he loves pizza crusts, your dog never barks at the delivery man.'

Relative Clause

A relative clause is a clause that begins with a relative pronoun such as who, whom, whose, which, or that, or a relative adverb such as when, where, or why. It is a type of dependent clause.

  • For example, in the clause 'Who loves pizza crusts,' the relative pronoun is who. In the clause 'Where he chews and drools with great enthusiasm,' the relative adverb is where.

Like dependent, or subordinate, clauses, relative clauses cannot stand alone as complete sentences. You must connect them to main clauses to finish the thought.

  • For example: 'My dog Floyd, who loves pizza crusts, eats them under the kitchen table, where he chews and drools with great enthusiasm.' The thought is now complete, and your reader knows that 'your dog, who loves pizza crusts, eats them under the kitchen table,' and that he 'chews and drools with great enthusiasm' while doing so.

Note that the relative clause breaks up the main clause here, which is 'my dog Floyd eats them under the kitchen table.' A relative clause can be essential or nonessential. A relative clause is essential when you need the information it provides. An essential relative clause does not require a comma to separate it from the rest of the sentence.

  • For example, in the sentence, 'A dog that eats too much pizza will soon develop pepperoni breath,' the dog could be any dog. To know which dog you are talking about, your reader must have the information in the relative clause 'that eats too much pizza.' The essential relative clause, 'that eats too much pizza,' does not require that you separate it from the rest of the sentence, 'A dog,' and thus, does not require that you use a comma to do so.

A relative clause is nonessential when you do not need the information it provides. A nonessential relative clause does require a comma to separate it from the rest of the sentence.

  • For example, in the sentence, 'My dog Floyd, who eats too much pizza, has developed pepperoni breath,' the 'dog' is now a specific dog named 'Floyd.' The relative clause, 'who eats too much pizza,' becomes nonessential because your reader does not need the information it contains to know that your dog Floyd has developed pepperoni breath. The nonessential relative clause, 'who eats too much pizza,' requires that you separate it from the rest of the sentence, 'My dog Floyd' and 'has developed pepperoni breath,' and that you use a comma to do so.

Noun Clause

A noun clause is any clause that replaces and functions as, a noun. It's another type of dependent clause.

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