What is a Dependent Clause? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 0:13 What Is a Clause?
  • 0:55 Dependent Clause Types
  • 2:17 The Problems with Clauses
  • 2:47 Sentence Fragments
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Firestone
Dependent clauses are one of the building blocks of language. Learn the different types of dependent clauses and how they differ from independent clauses and phrases.


Dependent clauses are groups of words that have a subject and a verb but do not form a complete thought. Dependent clauses rely on independent clauses for meaning and are also known as subordinate clauses.

What Is a Clause?

In English, a clause is any group of words that has both a subject and a verb. There are two types: dependent clauses and independent clauses. The sentences below are examples of dependent clauses:

Since it is important ('It' forms the subject; 'is' forms the verb.)

Because I need it for work ('I' forms the subject; 'need' forms the verb.)

It's obvious that these clauses need more information to make sense. When these sentences are added to independent clauses, their meaning becomes clear. Take a look at the sentences now:

Since it is important, I will leave first thing in the morning.

You can't take the car tonight because I need it for work.

Dependent Clause Types

Dependent clauses function in different ways within sentences, giving us the ability to add information about nouns and verbs. See the following examples of clause types:

A noun clause is a type that forms the subject of a sentence:

What I do is my own business.

'What I do' is a dependent clause that forms the subject.

An adjective clause is a type that functions as an adjective, modifying a noun:

The apples that we bought yesterday have already been eaten.

'That we bought yesterday' is a dependent clause that modifies the noun 'apples.' This type of clause is also called a relative clause. Relative clauses begin with the relative pronouns that, which, whom, whose, who, when, why, and where.

An adverb clause provides more information about the action that was taken in the sentence:

The farmer chose to grow apples because she loves apple pie. Or,

The baker bought a dessert cookbook after the apple harvest.

'Because she loves apple pie' and 'after the apple harvest' are dependent clauses that modify the actions taken in the sentences.

A complement is a type that provides necessary information about the verb in a sentence:

Frank wanted to join the group.

'To join the group' is a complement to the verb 'wanted.'

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