Subordinate Clause: Examples & Definition

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  • 1:02 Examples
  • 1:55 Conjunctions & Pronouns
  • 4:13 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Susan Nami

Susan has taught middle school English for five years and has a master's degree in teaching.

Expert Contributor
Amy Fredrickson

Amy has taught and tutored college-level English; she has a master's degree from Colorado State University in rhetoric and composition.

In this lesson, we will learn about the function of subordinate clauses, also known as dependent clauses, and examine a variety of examples in order to understand their role in our writing.

Definition of Subordinate Clause

We all know at least one person who is way too needy. Some might use the word, 'clingy.' They cannot seem to go anywhere, make a decision or even get dressed without another person there to hold their hand along the way. The word 'dependent' comes to mind. Meaning, they are completely dependent on another person to function. Well, believe it or not, this is very similar to a subordinate clause.

A subordinate clause, also called a dependent clause, cannot stand alone in a sentence because it is an incomplete thought and must have that independent clause by its side to function properly. A clause is just another word for a group of words containing one subject and one verb. There are two types of clauses: independent and subordinate. Independent clauses, unlike subordinate ones, are complete because they make sense on their own. Subordinate clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions or relative pronouns, which both play a key role in making the clause subordinate.

Let's examine some examples to understand these clauses more clearly.

Examples of Independent & Dependent Clauses

'We finished cleaning our apartment.'

  • 'We' is the subject.
    • 'Finished' is the verb.

As you can see, this clause is independent because it has a subject and a verb, and it can stand alone as a complete thought.

'After we returned from my mother's house'

  • 'After' is the subordinating conjunction.
    • 'We' is the subject.
      • 'Returned' is the verb.

This subordinate clause is incomplete and would be considered a fragment if it appeared alone. It needs an independent clause by its side, so it can make sense and be considered one complete thought. Otherwise, we are left wondering, 'so what happened after you returned from your mother's house? Tell me more!'

When you put them together though. . .

'We finished cleaning our apartment + after we returned from my mother's house.'

Voila!! We have a complete sentence! This is called a complex sentence because it contains at least one independent and one subordinate clause.

Subordinating Conjunctions & Relative Pronouns

Subordinate clauses would actually be independent were it not for the subordinating conjunction or relative pronoun, because they do have a subject and a verb.

For example, in the clause, 'after we returned from my mother's house,' if we remove the subordinating conjunction, 'after,' we are left with 'we returned from my mother's house,' which is an independent clause or a complete sentence because it has a subject (we) and a verb (returned) and states clear, complete information.

Subordinating conjunctions function like conjunctions because they do help join the subordinate clause to the independent clause. They also help add key information like when or why something is happening. Relative pronouns are not conjunctions but act like other pronouns and take the place of a person, place or thing.

Some subordinating conjunctions are: after, as, although, while, when, where, whenever, whether, until, unless, because, before, if, since.

Relative Pronouns are: who, which, when, where, what, whose.

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Additional Activities

Subordinate Clauses Practice Activities

Continue to explore subordinate clauses and subordinating conjunctions by identifying subordinating conjunctions and tinkering with writing complex sentences.

Identify the Subordinating Conjunction

In the sentences below, first highlight the subordinating conjunction. Then, consider what the subordinating conjunction shows the reader: does it introduce a comparison to the main clause? A condition or reason?

  • I went to the doctor because I had broken a bone.
  • If s/he isn't home soon, it is probably because she got busy at work.
  • Even though Henry was taller than his brother, his brother was a better basketball player.

Subordinate the Idea

You have been assigned to write an article for your local newspaper about the election of a new mayor. Each bullet point below has two ideas you need to communicate in your article. One of these ideas is subordinate to the other: it should be written as a subordinated clause. First, determine which idea should be subordinated; then, brainstorm a good subordinating conjunction to use that will clearly connect the two ideas; finally, write the two ideas as a complex sentence—one independent clause and one dependent clause. Your new sentences need not use the exact wording presented below.

  • The new mayor won the election by a wide margin; the new mayor appealed to both young and old voters.
  • The new mayor was sworn in on the steps of the capitol building; it was raining torrents.
  • The new mayor is hoping to approve a new spending bill; the state congress is struggling to push the bill through the senate.

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