What are dependent clauses in English grammar?

This is the first of three chapters about Dependent Clauses. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Review the difference between sentences and clauses

– Compare independent and dependent clauses

– Discuss three key grammar rules of dependent clauses

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Chapter 1

Whenever students learn about simple, compound and complex sentence structures, an exploration of independent and dependent clauses will also be necessary. Though somewhat complex, having a good understanding of the various types of clause in English is one of the best ways of improving language at the sentence level. Improve the clarity, concision and accuracy of your sentences and your paragraphs will improve too (and so therefore will your essays and grades). In this short three-chapter reader, we therefore focus specifically on dependent clauses and their five key types, exploring finite adjective, adverbial and noun clauses in Chapter 2 and non-finite participial and infinitival clauses in Chapter 3.

Are clauses and sentences the same?

This is the first question you’ll probably ask yourself when studying sentence-level grammar. Confusingly, it is true that a single clause may be a sentence but that a sentence may not necessarily be composed of one single clause. The reason for this is that sentences are built from one or many clauses. While simple sentences only require one clause, for example, compound sentences are formed from two and complex sentences take two or more:

  • simple sentences are made from one independent clause
  • compound sentences require two independent clauses
  • complex sentences have one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses
  • compound-complex sentences combine the features of compound and complex sentences


How are independent and dependent clauses different?

Clearly then, sentence structures are all built from a pattern of independent and dependent clauses. As a rule, all clauses (except for non-finite clauses) require a subject and a verb, so what makes dependent and independent clauses different from each other? The following two tables offer a comparison:

How many types of dependent clauses exist?

As we will learn in Chapters 2 and 3, there are typically five types of dependent clause that students should learn. Each type has a different function and a different form and grammar rules. There are finite adjective, adverbial and noun clauses, and there are non-finite participial and infinitival clauses:

What are the general grammar rules?

While the specific grammar rules of each of the five types will be explored in Chapters 2 and 3, let’s first discuss three of the most common rules of dependent clauses. The first rule is that correct subordinate conjunctions should be used to introduce dependent clauses, the most common of which we’ve included below. Because each of these conjunctions have different meanings, expressing aspects such as cause, concession and condition, it’s important that students learn them carefully:

Secondly, students should make sure that they never write a dependent clause without also combining that clause with at least one independent clause. That’s because a single dependent clause creates an ungrammatical sentence, forming what is known as an incomplete sentence fragment:

What these two examples also demonstrate is the third and final rule. In (B), when a sentence begins with a dependent clause (such as ‘Because I study English every day’), a comma (,) must be used to separate the dependent from the independent clause (‘I can speak it quite well’). This is not the case in (A), however, when the independent clause comes after the dependent clause, explaining why ‘I’m studying this language’ combines with the dependent clause ‘even though I don’t find it interesting’ without punctuation.

Well done for completing this first chapter about dependent clauses. If you’re ready to further improve your writing by learning about the form, function and distribution of the five types of dependent clause, continue studying with Chapters 2 and 3.

1 of 3 Chapters Completed


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

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

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

Chapter 3 explores the topic: Are participial and infinitival clauses important? Our Chapter 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 Chapter Worksheets. This All-in-1 Pack includes every chapter, activity and answer key related to this topic in one handy and professional PDF.

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