What are adjective, adverbial and noun clauses?

This is the second of three lessons about Dependent Clauses. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Review the key features of dependent clauses

– Study the three types of finite dependent clause: adjective, adverbial and noun

– Understand examples of form, function and distribution

Lesson 2

In this second lesson on dependent clauses, we take a more careful look at the three types of finite dependent clause: adjective, adverbial and noun clauses. We discuss their form, function and distribution and highlight their most important grammar rules. As finite clauses, each of these three types of dependent clause possesses a subject as well as a verb that may be modified for time via tense and aspect. For an exploration of non-finite clauses, such as infinitival and participial clauses, continue straight on to Lesson 3.

Dependent Clause Review

Before looking at each of these three types more carefully, let’s quickly review the key features of finite dependent clauses. Such clauses:


  • cannot stand alone as sentences
  • contain at least a subject and a verb
  • may also comprise objects, complements and adverbials
  • are the building blocks of complex and compound-complex structures
  • may be combined using subordinating conjunctions and commas

Type 1: Adjective Clauses

Also known as relative clauses, adjective clauses function much in the way that adjectives do. Directly following the noun or noun phrase they modify, adjective clauses define, identify or provide extra information about the subject or object of a sentence. As the following examples show, these clauses are most often introduced by relative pronouns such as ‘which’, ‘who’ and ‘that’, although the adverbs ‘when’ and ‘where’ can also sometimes be used:

  • The student that always wears a suit is never on time.
  • Open the book which we were using last week.
  • The teacher who teaches English is my favourite.
  • Give it to the student whom I reprimanded yesterday.
  • The student whose hair is red is always on time.


There are two ways in which adjective clauses can be tricky for non-native speakers. The first rule to remember is that non-restrictive adjective clauses (those which provide non-essential information) should be written within bracketing commas (,):

Secondly, students should recognise that some adjective clauses may be reduced. As the examples below show, the relative pronoun and ‘be’ verb may be missing from their clause structure (explained thoroughly in our course on relative clauses):

Type 2: Adverbial Clauses

Much like adjective clauses, adverbial clauses also modify phrases within a sentence. However, where adjective clauses add to noun phrases, adverbials tend to modify verb phrases. Adverbial clauses are generally introduced by subordinating conjunctions such as ‘although’ and ‘because’ and add information to the verb of the superordinating clause (the independent clause to which the dependent clause is attached). As the following three examples show, adverb clauses are followed by a comma when they come first (A), are between commas when they come within another clause (B), and are unpunctuated at the end of a sentence (C):

Broadly speaking, there are nine types of adverbial clause:

Broadly speaking, there are nine types of adverbial clause:

Type 3: Noun Clauses

Unlike adjective and adverbial clauses, noun clauses (also known as content clauses) do not modify sentence phrases but instead replace them. Much like a noun phrase, a noun clause can be the subject or object of a sentence, naming people, places, things and ideas. One easy way of identifying a noun clause is to memorise which words introduce them:

Another method of identification is to learn the grammatical patterns of noun clauses. If you can identify phrase functions such as subjects and objects then this should be easy enough to do. As the following table shows, there are six types of noun clause which are possible in English:

Note that in the final appositive example, the clause ‘that no one has studied for this exam’ is the same in meaning to the ‘it’ pronoun that comes at the start of the sentence. This could therefore be rearranged as a subject noun clause: ‘That no one has studied for the exam is worrisome’.


Types 4/5: Participial and Infinitival Clauses

Not all clauses are finite, however. As we will learn in Lesson 3, non-finite clauses are particularly interesting (and challenging) because they do not always have subjects – one of the ordinarily key features of a clause. What’s more, their verbs cannot demonstrate time through modifications of tense, leading to their non-finite definition. Whether their verb is a present or past participle or an infinitive also leads to their further categorisation as participial (A) and infinitival (B) clauses:

Well done for completing Lesson 2 about finite dependent clauses. To learn more about infinitival and participial non-finite dependent clauses, continue with Lesson 3.

2 of 3 Lessons Completed


Once you’ve completed all three lessons in this short course about Dependent Clauses, you might then wish to download our Lesson Worksheets to check your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

Lesson 1 explores the topic: What are dependent clauses in English grammar? Our Lesson 1 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Lesson 2 explores the topic: What are adjective, adverbial and noun clauses? Our Lesson 2 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Lesson 3 explores the topic: Are participial and infinitival clauses important? Our Lesson 3 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

To save yourself 2 Marks, click on the button below to gain unlimited access to all of our Dependent Clauses Lesson Worksheets. This All-in-1 Pack includes every lesson, activity and answer key related this topic in one handy and professional PDF.


There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.


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