2006/Dec/07

The Clause 

Recognize a clause when you see one. 

Clauses come in four types: main [or independent], subordinate [or dependent], relative [or adjective], and noun. Every clause has at least a subject and a verb. Other characteristics will help you distinguish one type of clause from another. 

Main Clauses 

Every main clause will follow this pattern: 

Subject + Verb = Complete Thought

Here are some examples: 

Lazy students whine. 

students = subject | whine = verb 

Pepsi spilled over the glass and splashed onto the counter. 

Pepsi = subject | spilled, splashed = verbs 

My dog loves pizza crusts. 

dog = subject | loves = verb 

The important point to remember is that every sentence must have at least one main clause. Otherwise, you have a fragment, a major error in writing. 

Subordinate Clauses 

Subordinate clauses will follow this pattern: 

Subordinate Conjunction + Subject + Verb = Incomplete Thought

Here are some examples: 

Whenever lazy students whine 

Whenever = subordinate conjunction | students = subject | whine = verb 

As Pepsi spilled over the glass and splashed onto the counter 

As = subordinate conjunction | Pepsi = subject | spilled, splashed = verb 

Because my dog loves pizza crusts 

Because = subordinate conjunction | dog = subject | loves = verb 

The important point to remember about subordinate clauses is that they can never stand alone as complete sentences. To complete the thought, you must attach each subordinate clause to a main clause. Generally, the punctuation looks like this: 

Main Clause+ Ø + Subordinate Clause. 

Subordinate Clause+ , + Main Clause. 

Check out these revisions to the subordinate clauses above: 

Whenever lazy students whine, Mrs. Russell throws chalk erasers at their heads. 

Anthony ran for the paper towels as Pepsi spilled over the glass and splashed onto the counter. 

Because my dog loves pizza crusts, he never barks at the Pizza Hut deliveryman. 

Relative Clauses 

Relative clauses will begin with relative pronouns [such as who, whom, whose, which, or that]or relative adverbs [when, where, or why]. The patterns look like these: 

Relative Pronoun (or Relative Adverb) + Subject + Verb = Incomplete Thought

Relative Pronoun + Verb = Incomplete Thought

Here are some examples: 

Whom Mrs. Russell hit in the head with a chalk eraser 

Whom = relative pronoun | Mrs. Russell = subject | hit = verb 

Where he chews and drools with great enthusiasm 

Where = relative adverb | he = subject | chews, drools = verbs 

That had spilled over the glass and splashed onto the counter 

That = relative pronoun | had spilled, splashed = verbs 

Who loves pizza crusts 

Who = relative pronoun | loves = verb 

Like subordinate clauses, relative clauses cannot stand alone as complete sentences. You must connect them to main clauses to finish the thought. Look at these revisions of the relative clauses above: 

The lazy students whom Mrs. Russell hit in the head with a chalk eraser soon learned to keep their complaints to themselves. 

My dog Floyd, who loves pizza crusts, eats them under the kitchen table, where he chews and drools with great enthusiasm. 

Anthony ran to get paper towels for the Pepsi that had spilled over the glass and splashed onto the counter. 

Punctuating relative clauses can be tricky, though. You have to decide if the relative clause is essential or nonessential and then use commas accordingly. 

Essential relative clauses do not require commas. A relative clause is essential when you need the information it provides. Look at this example: 

A dog that eats too much pizza will soon develop pepperoni breath. 

Dog is nonspecific. To know which dog we are talking about, we must have the information in the relative clause. Thus, the relative clause is essential and requires no commas.

If, however, we revise dog and choose more specific words instead, the relative clause becomes nonessential and does require commas to separate it from the rest of the sentence. Read this revision: 

My dog Floyd, who eats too much pizza, has developed pepperoni breath. 

Noun Clauses 

Any clause that functions as a noun becomes a noun clause. Look at this example: 

You really do not want to know the ingredients in Aunt Nancy's stew.

ingredients = noun 

You really do not want to know what Aunt Nancy adds to her stew. 

what Aunt Nancy adds to her stew = noun clause