Dependent and Independent Clauses

Commas change the meaning of sentencesThis article takes a look at dependent and independent clauses, give you tips on how you can identify them, and explains why understanding what they are is important for correct punctuation.

A clause is a group of words that contains both a subject (a noun or noun phrase) and a predicate (a simple verb or compound verb phrase, along with any objects
complementing the verb). There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent. Independent clauses are also referred to as main clauses, and dependent clauses are also known as a subordinate or relative clauses.

It is important that you are able to differentiate between dependent and independent clauses because using correct punctuation within a sentence often depends on your ability to separate the two appropriately.

Dependent clauses

Dependent clauses are groups of words that contain a subject and a verb but do not express a complete thought, i.e. they cannot be read in isolation and make complete sense:

When I arrived at the science lab . . .

Here, we have a verb, “arrived,” and a noun, “lab,” but we do not know what happened when I arrived at the science lab. The thought is incomplete, and the clause is a dependent clause because it requires further information to make sense.

Many introductory phrases are also dependent clauses.

Independent clauses

Independent clauses are groups of words that contain a subject and a verb and do make complete sense on their own, i.e. they do not need additional information to form a complete thought:

I found the professor covered in green slime.

The basic difference between dependent and independent clauses is that dependent clauses cannot stand on their own and make sense, while independent clauses can.

Placing them together gives us further information:

When I arrived at the science lab, I found the professor covered in green slime.

Identifying dependent and independent clauses

Dependent clauses often begin with a dependent marker word, which is a word that appears at the beginning of an independent clause and transforms it into a dependent clause.

In our example, the introduction of the word “when” acts as a dependent marker word because it means we need more information. What happened when I arrived at the science lab?

Common dependent marker words

The following words are some of the more common dependent marker words that are used in the English language:

  • after
  • although
  • as
  • as if
  • because
  • before
  • even if
  • even though
  •  if
  • in order to
  • since
  • though
  • unless
  • until
  • whatever
  • when
  • whenever
  • whether
  • while.

 

How to connect dependent and independent clauses

There are two types of words that can be used as connectors at the beginning of an impendent clause. These are coordinating conjunctions and independent marker words.

Coordinating conjunctions

There are seven coordinating conjunctions, and these can be remembered by the acronym FANBOYS:

F= for

A= and

N= nor

B= but

O= or

Y= yet

S= so

Let’s have a look at an example. Here are two independent clauses:

I arrived at the science lab.

I found the professor covered in green slime.

The two independent clauses can be joined through the use of the coordinating conjunction “and”:

I arrived at the science lab, and I found the professor covered in green slime.

N.B.: When you connect two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction, you should use a comma.

Independent marker word

An independent marker word is a word that can be used at the beginning of an independent clause. Some of the most common independent marker words are as follows:

  • also
  • however
  • therefore
  • subsequently
  • consequently
  • furthermore
  • moreover

Unlike coordinating conjunctions, two independent clauses that are connected with an independent marker word should not be separated by a comma, as doing this forms a comma splice. Instead, a semicolon should be placed before the independent marker word and a comma after it:

I arrived on time at the science lab; however, the professor was already covered in slime.

If you need assistance with your written English and would benefit from the help of a professional editor, check out our affordable online proofreading services now.

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