Types of Clauses: Noun, Adverbial, & Relative Clauses

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  • 0:57 Independent and…
  • 2:40 Relative Clause
  • 6:45 Noun Clause
  • 9:26 Adverbial Clause
  • 12:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will define clause. We will then review independent and dependent clauses. Finally, we will focus on the different types of dependent clauses - including relative, noun and adverbial - discuss how to recognize them and then discuss how to use the clauses in our writing.

What Is A Clause?

Stop for a minute and think about all the ways that you may communicate throughout the day. You probably have several conversations, send texts and emails, read articles and even leave written messages through work or school. How much of your communication relies on writing? Probably much more than you originally thought.

Writing is one of the strongest ways that we communicate with each other. When we write, we develop sentences, which then develop paragraphs and eventually develop essays and longer writings. However, before we can really write a sentence, we work in clauses.

What is a clause? A clause is a group of related words. There are several different types of clauses that can be used to develop sentences. Let's take a look at some of these types and discuss how they are important in our writing.

Independent and Dependent Clauses

An independent clause is a clause that can stand alone. You can think of this as a simple sentence. There is a subject, verb, and complete thought. For example, if I were to write: 'John passed the ball,' I would have a complete, simple sentence. I have a subject, John; a verb, passed; and a complete thought, the ball. Although independent clauses can stand alone, we often join them with other clauses to make more complex sentences. Complex sentences allow us to use various types of sentences in our writing, which is important. We do not want to bore our audience by having the same type of simple sentence structure throughout!

A dependent clause is a clause that cannot stand alone; it depends on another clause to make it a complete sentence. You can recognize a dependent clause because it starts with a subordinate conjunction. A subordinate conjunction is a word that joins ideas together and shows the relationship between ideas. Some of the subordinate conjunctions that you may already know are 'because,' 'although,' 'where,' and 'after.' Subordinate conjunctions may represent time, cause and effect, and contrast.

It is important to remember that a dependent clause is not a complete thought. For example, if I were to write, 'Because it was not his turn,' this would not be a complete thought. Your audience does not know what happened because it was not his turn. To make a dependent clause a complete thought, you should combine it with an independent one: 'Because it was not his turn, John passed the ball.'

Relative Clause

There are three main types of dependent clauses: relative, noun, and adverbial.

A relative clause is an adjective clause that describes the noun. It is important to remember that a relative clause is not a complete thought! They are used in sentences to further describe the noun.

You can identify a relative clause by looking for three main components:

  1. It will contain a subject and a verb.
  2. It will begin with a relative pronoun or relative adverb. These would include 'who,' 'whom,' 'whose,' 'that,' and 'which' for a pronoun and 'when,' 'where,' or 'why' for an adverb. Looking for these signal words can help you identify this type of clause!
  3. The relative clause will function as an adjective, answering questions about the noun, such as: 'Which one?' 'What kind?' 'How many?'

There are two ways to write a relative clause. First, you would have a relative pronoun, subject, and then verb. For example, 'when we go to the movies.' 'When' is the relative pronoun, 'we' is the subject, and 'go' is the verb.

Second, you would have a relative pronoun as a subject followed by the verb. For example, 'who walked out of the store.' In this example, 'who' is our subject and 'walked' is the verb. Or for another example, 'that swarmed us.' In this example, 'that' is the subject and 'swarmed' is the verb.

Remember that relative clauses cannot stand alone. These are incomplete thoughts and should be joined to an independent clause to become a complete sentence. In our earlier examples, we could write, 'When we go to the movies, we always buy popcorn.' The phrase 'we always buy popcorn' is an independent clause that completes the phrase. Or in another example, 'who walked out of the store,' we could write, 'Those are the two children who walked out of the store.' In the final example, 'that swarmed us,' we could write, 'We killed the bees that swarmed us.'

When writing a relative clause, it is important to punctuate them correctly. Remember that these clauses describe a noun. Sometimes these descriptions are necessary to the meaning of the sentence, and other times they are just an extra detail.

An essential relative clause contains information that is needed in the sentence. Because the information is needed to understand the sentence, we would not include any commas. For example, 'The children who eat their dinner can have candy.' The phrase, 'who eat their dinner,' is essential to the sentence because it is only these children who can have candy. If we did not have this phrase, then it would read like all the children can have candy, which is not true. This would change the noun or subject of our sentence. It will also change the meaning of the sentence itself.

A nonessential relative clause is not necessary for the meaning of the sentence. Because of this, it does require commas. The information is helpful, but the meaning of the sentence and the noun would still be clear without the clause. For example, 'Aiden and his brother Julian, who is the oldest of the two, enjoy spending time together.' The clause, 'who is the oldest of the two,' adds extra details, but the sentence would still be clear without it. We would still know that it was Aiden and Julian who were brothers and that they enjoy spending time together. We would still have the same subject of the sentence without the relative clause, and the meaning of the sentence stays the same.

How will this help my writing? Knowing how to identify relative clauses will help you avoid this type of fragment. Remember that complete sentences require a complete thought, and these do not have one. You will want to be sure to join these clauses with an independent one. In addition, by knowing how to identify relative clauses, you will also know how to punctuate your sentence correctly and avoid a common comma error. You will be able to show your audience what information is essential to your sentence by remembering how to identify the relative clause and then punctuate correctly.

Noun Clause

A noun clause is a dependent clause that acts like a noun. It serves the exact same function as a noun. It can be a subject, object, or complement. Like the relative clause, a noun clause usually begins with a relative pronoun. However, it can also begin with a subordinate conjunction. Remember, like other dependent clauses, a noun clause will not stand alone!

For example, you could write, 'The spoiled milk I accidentally drank at breakfast made me sick,' or 'What I accidentally drank for breakfast made me sick.' Both of these sentences have the same meaning. In the first one, you use 'spoiled milk' as the noun, but for the second one you use a noun clause, 'what I accidentally drank for breakfast.'

Because a noun clause works as a noun, it can be used many different ways in a sentence.

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