Types of subordinate clauses in the English language

Definition and classification of English sentences, their variety and comparative characteristics, structure and component parts. Features subordination to them. Types of subordinate clauses, a sign of submission to them, their distinctive features.

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Types of subordinate clauses in the English language


sentence subordination submission

In the process of communication people use a variety of sentences to make their speech interesting and lively. Too many simple sentences, for example, will sound choppy and immature while too many long sentences will be difficult to read and hard to understand.

Coordination and Subordination are ways of combining words, phrases, and clauses into more complex forms. The discussion below examines coordination and subordination of clauses.

Coordination - uses coordinating conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs (with appropriate punctuation), or punctuation to combine short independent clauses into a single sentence. Coordination implies the balance of elements that are of equal semantic value in the sentence.

Subordination - uses subordinating conjunctions or relative pronouns to transform independent clauses (main clauses or ideas) into dependent clauses (subordinate clauses or ideas). Subordinate clauses are subordinate to (and thus hold less semantic value than) the independent clause(s) to which they are linked.

The topic of our investigation is Types of Subordinate Clauses in the English Language.

The topicality of our investigation is predetermined by the necessity understand and use in practice English language with all its grammatical and syntactic peculiarities. English is recognized to be a global language of communication of different people from different countries. That is why it is so important to understand fully syntactic peculiarities of the language.

The object of the investigation is subordinate clauses.

The subject of the investigation is specific features of functioning of subordinate clauses in accordance with their different types.

The aim of the investigation is to analyze different types of subordinate clauses in the English language.

To gain the aim of the investigation we have determined the following tasks:

- to consider types of English sentences;

- investigate the nature of clause;

- determine specific features of subordination;

- characterize types of subordinate clauses;

- investigate punctuation peculiarities and subordinating conjunctions;

- select sentences with different types of subordinate clauses.

Structure of the investigation. The paper consists of the introduction, two chapters, theoretical and practical one, conclusion and bibliography.

1. Theoretical aspects of subordinate clauses in the English language

1.1 Types of English sentences

There are different types of sentences.


A simple sentence, also called an independent clause, contains a subject and a verb, and it expresses a complete thought. In the following simple sentences, subjects are in yellow, and verbs are in green.

A. Some students like to study in the mornings.

B. Juan and Arturo play football every afternoon.

C. Alicia goes to the library and studies every day.

The three examples above are all simple sentences. Note that sentence B contains a compound subject, and sentence C contains a compound verb. Simple sentences, therefore, contain a subject and verb and express a complete thought, but they can also contain a compound subjects or verbs.


A compound sentence contains two independent clauses joined by a coordinator. The coordinators are as follows: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. (Helpful hint: The first letter of each of the coordinators spells FANBOYS.) Except for very short sentences, coordinators are always preceded by a comma.

A. I tried to speak Spanish, and my friend tried to speak English.

B. Alejandro played football, so Maria went shopping.

C. Alejandro played football, for Maria went shopping.

The above three sentences are compound sentences. Each sentence contains two independent clauses, and they are joined by a coordinator with a comma preceding it. Note how the conscious use of coordinators can change the relationship between the clauses. Sentences B and C, for example, are identical except for the coordinators. In sentence B, which action occurred first? Obviously, Alejandro played football first, and as a consequence, Maria went shopping. In sentence C, Maria went shopping first. In sentence C, Alejandro played football because, possibly, he didn't have anything else to do, for or because Maria went shopping. How can the use of other coordinators change the relationship between the two clauses? What implications would the use of yet or but have on the meaning of the sentence?


A complex sentence has an independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses. A complex sentence always has a subordinator such as because, since, after, although, or when or a relative pronoun such as that, who, or which.

A. When he handed in his homework, he forgot to give the teacher the last page.

B. The teacher returned the homework after she noticed the error.

C. The students are studying because they have a test tomorrow.

D. After they finished studying, Juan and Maria went to the movies.

E. Juan and Maria went to the movies after they finished studying.

When a complex sentence begins with a subordinator such as sentences A and D, a comma is required at the end of the dependent clause. When the independent clause begins the sentence with subordinators in the middle as in sentences B, C, and E, no comma is required. If a comma is placed before the subordinators in sentences B, C, and E, it is wrong.

Note that sentences D and E are the same except sentence D begins with the dependent clause which is followed by a comma, and sentence E begins with the independent clause which contains no comma. The comma after the dependent clause in sentence D is required, and experienced listeners of English will often hear a slight pause there. In sentence E, however, there will be no pause when the independent clause begins the sentence [10, p. 144-146].

1.2 The nature of clause

Sentences can be complex and include a main clause, what we call main sentence, or a subordinate clause, what we call clause. There are 3 types of clauses: noun clauses, adjectival clauses and adverbial clauses.

Noun clauses: A clause which acts as the subject or object (O) or as the complement (C, atributo in Spanish) Adjectival or Relative clauses: They refer to nouns (generally) and therefore perform the same syntactic function as the preceding noun or antecedent, this means they are PART of whatever syntactic function that noun performs in the sentence. For instance, The girl who is eating prawns is Russian, who is eating prawns is the relative clause which is modifying girl, so the subject of is Russian is the whole idea The girl who is eating prawns. Likewise, I don't like the film we saw last night has the relative clause we saw last night modifying film, so the object of the main sentence (I don't like) is the film we saw last night, and not the film only.

Adverbial clauses are complementos circunstanciales. There are different types: time clauses, (CCT), place (CCL), manner (CCM), comparison, reason or cause (CCC), purpose (CCF), result (consecutivas), conditional, concession.

Clauses can be finite or non-finite. In other words, they may have a finite verb (a verb with a subject in a tense) or a non-finite verb (an infinitive, a present participle [-ing] or a past participle, no subject) [21, p. 87].

A clause is a part of a sentence. There are two main types: independent (main clauses), dependent (subordinate clauses).

Independent Clauses

An independent clause is a complete sentence; it contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought in both context and meaning.

For example: The door opened.

Independent clauses can be joined by a coordinating conjunction to form complex or compound sentences.

For example: Take two independent clauses and join them together with the conjunction and: The door opened. The man walked in. = The door opened and the man walked in.

Dependent Clauses

A dependent (subordinate) clause is part of a sentence; it contains a subject and verb but does not express a complete thought. They can make sense on their own, but, they are dependent on the rest of the sentence for context and meaning. They are usually joined to an independent clause to form a complex sentence.

Dependent clauses often begin with a subordinating conjunction or relative pronoun (see below) that makes the clause unable to stand alone.

For example:

The door opened because the man pushed it.

Dependent clauses can be nominal, adverbial or adjectival.

A nominal clause (noun clause) functions like a noun or noun phrase. It is a group of words containing a subject and a finite verb of its own and contains one of the following: that | if | whether

For example:

I wondered whether the homework was necessary.

Noun clauses answer questions like who(m)? or what?

An adverbial clause (adverb clause) is a word or expression in the sentence that functions as an adverb; that is, it tells you something about how the action in the verb was done. An adverbial clause is separated from the other clauses by any of the following subordinating conjunctions: after | although | as | because | before | if | since | that | though | till | unless | until | when | where | while

For example:

They will visit you before they go to the airport.

Adverbial clauses can also be placed before the main clause without changing the meaning.

For example:

Before they go to the airport, they will visit you.

When an adverb clause introduces the sentence (as this one does), it is set off with a comma.

Adverb clauses answer questions like when?, where?, why?

An adjectival clause (adjective clause or relative clause) does the work of an adjective and describes a noun, it's usually introduced by a relative pronoun: who | whom | whose | that | which

For example:

I went to the show that was very popular.

This kind of clause is used to provide extra information about the noun it follows. This can be to define something (a defining clause), or provide unnecessary, but interesting, added information (a non-defining clause).

For example:

The car that is parked in front of the gates will be towed away. (Defining relative clause.)

An Adverb clause is a dependent clause that takes the place of an adverb. An adverb clause answers questions such as when, where, why, with what result, under what conditions, and for what purpose [26].

I watched a movie last night. 'Last night' is an adverb.

I watched a movie after I came home. 'After I came home' is the adverb clause in this sentence. It takes the place of the adverb. As you see, the adverb clause is dependent of the main clause I watched a movie, which is a complete sentence. The adverb clause does the same job as the adverb.

Information contained in the defining relative clause is absolutely essential in order for us to be able to identify the car in question.

My dog, who is grey and white, chased the postman. (Non-defining relative clause)

A non-defining relative clause is separated from the rest of the sentence by commas. If you take away the non-defining clause the basic meaning of the sentence remains intact.

For example:

My dog chased the postman.

Adjective clauses answer questions like which? or what kind of?

An adjective clause functions as an adjective (modifies a noun or pronoun); an adverb clause functions as an adverb (describes a verb, adjective or other adverb); a noun clause is used as a noun (subject of a verb, direct object, indirect object, predicate nominative or object of the preposition).

Adjective Clause has a subject and a verb, and takes the place of an adjective. An adjective clause must be connected to an independent clause.


Faraday first worked as a bottle washer for the famous chemist Humphry Davy, who later had become very jealous of him.

Adjective clause: who later had become very jealous of him.

Main clause: Faraday worked as a bottle washer for the famous chemist. The main clause can stand by itself because it expresses a complete thought.

Faraday discovered that electricity moves through wire. In this sentence, conductivity of wire is not mentioned, but it is described as the 'object' of the sentence. This sentence has two independent clauses:

The first independent clause: Faraday discovered that. In this sentence 'that is a clause marker acting as the object of the sentence.

The second independent clause, the electricity moves through wire, replaces the object that and carries a complete thought.

The above two clauses are independent because they both have a subject and verb, and impart a complete thought thus an stand alone.

The difference between a clause and a phrase is that a phrase does not contain a finite verb.

The data, mentioned above, are summed up in Table 1, given below [27].

Table 1. Types of clauses

Type of CLAUSE



Noun clauses

[What you said] was great

> subject

(Infinitive, Present participle)

[To give up at this stage] would be a pity

> non-finite noun clause, infinitive, subject

[Closing the factory] would mean unemployment for all

> non-finite noun clause, gerund, subject

Adjectival Clauses

or Relative Clauses

We bought the house [which you had rented]

> object, part of the object!

(Infinitive, Present and Past Participles)

I have something [to tell you]

> non-finite adjectival clause; infinitive

The thieves took two bags [containing $2,000]

> present participle

I couldn't read the instructions [given in the manual]

> past participle

Adverbial Clauses*

I shall see you [when we return]

> time adverbial

(Infinitive, Present and Past Participles,

Perfect Participle)

[To speed up the process] she bought a computer

> non-finite adverbial clause, infinitive of purpose

[While travelling by air], she was taken sick

[Given time], she'll do the job extremely well

[Having finished their task], they went out for a drink

1.3 Specific features of subordination

Based on the relationship that holds between the clauses within multiple sentences we distinguish between compound and complex sentences. Downing & Locke [26, p. 279] distinguish two kinds of relationship between clauses in a multiple sentence:

a) the syntactic (structural) relationship of interdependency in which clauses are related to each other basically in one of two ways: the relationship is either of equivalence (the clauses have the same syntactic status) or the relationship is one of non-equivalence (the clauses have different status). When clauses are linked in a relationship of equivalence, we say that the relationship is paratactic. This type of linking is often treated as equivalent of coordination. On the other hand, when units of unequal status are related, we say that the relationship is hypotactic. In hypotactically related clauses, one clause is syntactically and semantically subordinated to another or to a series of clauses.

b) the logico-semantic relations, which are varied since they represent the way the speaker/writer sees the connections to be made between one clause and another. These connections do not simply link clauses within a complex clause, but also clauses within a paragraph and paragraphs within a text. As Downing & Locke state, connection is, therefore, a discourse phenomenon. These logico-semantic relations are of two kinds, that of expansion (the nuclear situation is expanded by means of other situation) and projection (a situation is `projected through a verb of saying or thinking).

Subordination, generally considered to be an index of structural complexity in language, has been studied by a number of grammarians. Thompson [29] claims that `subordination' treats as a single phenomenon all clauses which are not independent clauses.

According to Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, Svartvik's A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), subordination is a feature of a complex sentence [21]. It is a way of joining clauses of unequal status, where the independent clause is superordinate to the dependent clause(s), and he says that it is a misleading term and doesn't accept it as a grammatical category at all but rather as a negative term which lumps together all deviations from some `main clause' norm.

(i) He told me [main-super ordinate to (ii)], which depends on the main clause for its meaning. Semantically, the information contained in the subordinate clause is often presented as back grounded or presupposed in relation to the information contained in the superordinate clause (independent). A clause may enter into more than one relationship, it may be subordinate to one clause and super ordinate to another (ibid. 14.3).

(ii) that Peter wouldn't go there [subordinate to (i) - super ordinate to (iii)]

(iii) unless they invite him. [subordinate to (ii)]

A complex sentence is then a structure consisting of one independent clause that can stand alone as a sentence, and of one or more dependent clauses functioning as an element of the sentence. The subordinate clause, on the other hand, cannot stand alone (see the examples below):

[1] I was really very surprised because Tom arrived early in the morning.

[2] John will lend you his car if you need it.

[3] That he didn't know about it was not an excuse.

[4] She said that the test was not easy at all.

The embedded clauses in sentences 1 - 4 function as constituents of the super ordinate clause (a clause of which a constituent is realized by another clause). However, Downing & Locke [26, p. 278] would think of embedded clauses only in examples [3] and [4] as they occur at subject and object functions (nominal clauses) and represent situations which are participants in a super ordinate situation. In sentence [1] and [2] the subordinate clauses function as adverbs, they are termed adverbial clauses. The relationship of dependency is different from that of the previous cases of embedding. Adverbial clauses themselves show a continuum of a looser-to-tighter integration, a continuum that correlates with their function [29, p. 176]. They have not reached the level of incorporation that the nominal clauses have done. They are syntactically and semantically additional to, rather than participative in, the situation expressed in the main clause. Thus, such clauses are not considered as embedded, but dependent.

However, there are some discrepancies in terming of the above mentioned relationships. Downing & Locke [26] distinguish only two types of relationships between the clauses within a sentence, namely, the relationships of equality (parataxis) and relationships of dependency (hypotaxis), within which they distinguish between two types of relationships, that of dependency and embedding. Hopper and Traugott [29, p. 170]), on the other hand, redefine the terminology of two traditions and expand the parataxis (coordination) versus hypotaxis (subordination) pair into a three-way distinction establishing three cluster points which they characterize by a `cline of clause combining (parataxis > hypotaxis > subordination). They define `hypotaxis as a kind of relationship in which there is an independent clause and one or more clauses that cannot stand by themselves. These are not wholly included within any constituent of the independent clause. On the other hand, `subordination' according to them is `embedding', or complete dependency, in which a dependent clause is wholly included within a constituent of the independent clause.

Syntactically, the clearest cases of subordination are those signalled by subordinating conjunctions. They serve not only to mark syntactic boundaries, but also to signal the functional relationship of the combined clauses to each other. However, the nature of relationship is not always marked explicitly and not all subordinate clauses contain such markers. Other signals of subordination are wh - words, the word that, lack of finite verbs, and inversion. Huddleston [30, p. 152-153] names the following distinguishing markers: relative words, non-finiteness, ellipsis, and order.

In the following example

[5] Please, pass me the book that I borrowed from Ann.

the relative clause is introduced by a relative word, which is a marker of subordination, and it functions as a dependent structure in the noun phrase (the book). Nevertheless, by some grammarians, it is treated as postmodification within the complex noun phrase constituting the object the book that I borrowed from Ann. According to Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartvik, such structures add to the complexity of the noun phrase, not to the sentence, thus they are considered to be constituents of phrases, and therefore only indirectly embedded within a larger clause [31].

Based on their definition that a simple sentence is an independent clause that does not have another clause as one of its elements. In other words, a simple sentence does not contain a clause functioning as a subject, object, complement, or adverbial, but a clause may be part of one of its phrases comes clear that they consider clause structures containing relative clauses to be simple sentences. Hopper and Closs Traugott [29, p. 190] support this idea, and they state that languages exhibit different degrees of integration and interlacing of relative clauses, ranging from clauses which are placed outside the nucleus to clauses which are closely attached to a head noun inside the nucleus.

Other grammars would consider such sentences complex as they contain more than one finite clause. The terms simple and complex sentences will be avoided here and Huddleston's brief definition [30, p. 152] of a subordinate clause as one functioning as dependent within a larger construction that is itself a clause or a constituent of one can form a starting point for the analysis as it covers a whole range of dependencies, differing in form and syntactic function and serving various discourse needs.

As for the classification of subordinate clauses, these tend to be classified in grammars according to functional-semantic principles such as whether a clause functions as a noun phrase, modifies a noun phrase, or has adverbial functions. In the present study, they are divided into three major categories: nominal, relative, and adverbial.

Comparative clauses are treated within the adverbial group. Structures used for the purpose of focusing or giving information a more prominent position such as cleft and pseudo-cleft sentences were omitted from our analysis, because although their structure is similar to a relative or nominal clause and are introduced by that, zero pronoun or a wh-pronoun, they are neither relative nor nominal clauses.

1.4 Types of subordinate clauses

The problem of classifying subordinate clauses is one of the vexed questions of syntactic theory. Several systems have been tried out at various times, and practically each of them has been shown to suffer from some drawback or other. Some of the classifications so far proposed have been inconsistent, that is to say, they were not based on any one firm principle of division equally applied to all clauses under consideration. We will first of all point out what principles of classification are possible and then see how they work when applied to Modern English. It is quite conceivable that a sort of combined principle will have to be evolved, that is, one principle might be taken as the ruling one, and the main types established in accordance with it, and another principle, or perhaps other principles, taken as secondary ones and applied for a further subdivision of clauses obtained according to the first principle. It might also prove expedient to have two different classifications independent of each other and based on different principles. As we proceed to point out the various principles which may be taken as a base for classification, we shall see that even that is a matter of some difficulty, and liable to lead to discussion and controversy. The first opposition in the sphere of principles would seem to be that between meaning, or contents, and syntactical function. But this opposition is not in itself sufficient to determine the possible variants of classification. For instance, under the head of meaning we may bring either such notions as declarative (or statement) and interrogative (or question), and, on the other hand, a notion like explanatory. Under the head of function we may bring either the position of a clause within a complex sentence, defined on the same principles as the position of a sentence part within a simple sentence, or (as is sometimes done) on the analogy between a clause and a part of speech performing the same function within a simple sentence. Besides, for certain types of clauses there may be ways of characterising them in accordance with their peculiarities, which find no parallel in other clauses. For instance, clauses introduced by a relative pronoun or relative adverb may be termed relative clauses, which, however, is not a point of classification [25].

In order to obtain a clearer idea of how these various principles would work out in practice, let us take a complex sentence and define its subordinate clauses in accordance with each of these principles. Let the sentence be this: It was unreal, grotesquely unreal, that morning skies which dawned so tenderly blue could be profaned with cannon smoke that hung over the town like low thunder clouds, that warm noontides filled with the piercing sweetness of massed honeysuckle and climbing roses could be so fearful, as shells screamed into the streets, bursting like the crack of doom, throwing iron splinters hundreds of yards, blowing people and animals to bits.

Let us first look at the two subordinate clauses introduced by the conjunction that: (1) that morning skies could be profaned with cannon smoke, (2) that warm noontides., could be so fearful.

From the point of view of meaning they may be called declarative clauses, or subordinate statements, l as they contain statements which are expressed in subordinate clauses. From the point of view of function they may be termed, if we consider them as something parallel to parts of a simple sentence, either appositions to the impersonal it which opens the sentence, or subject clauses, if we take the view that the it is merely an introductory subject, or a sham subject, as it is sometimes called. If, last not least, we wish to compare the clauses to the part of speech which might perform the corresponding function in a simple sentence, we may call them noun clauses, or substantive clauses, which is a very usual way of treating them in English school grammars. Now let us turn to the clause coming after the noun skies of the first subordinate clause: which dawned so tenderly blue. From the viewpoint of meaning this clause can also be said to be declarative, or a subordinate statement. It may also be termed a relative clause, because it is introduced by a relative pronoun and has a relative connection with the noun skies (or the phrase morning skies). From the functional point of view it may be called an attributive clause, and if we compare it to the part of speech which might perform the corresponding function in a simple sentence, we may call it an adjective clause, which is also common in English school grammars.

The same considerations also apply to the clause that hung over the town like low thunder clouds; it is evident from the context that the word that which opens the clause is a relative pronoun (without it the clause would have no subject).

Now we take the last subordinate clause: as shells screamed into the streets, bursting like the crack of doom, throwing iron splinters hundreds of yards, blowing people and animals to bits. This again would be a declarative clause or a subordinate statement, and from the viewpoint of function it may be termed an adverbial clause, as it corresponds to an adverbial modifier in a simple sentence. More exactly, it might be termed an adverbial clause of time. Now, for the last item, if we compare it to the part of speech performing the corresponding function in a simple sentence, we might term it an adverb clause, which, however, is too close to the term adverbial clause to be of much use in distinguishing the two notions.

To sum up these various possibilities, we have, for the first two clauses, the following terms: declarative clause, or subordinate statement; apposition clause, or subject clause; noun clause.

For the second two clauses: declarative clause, or subordinate statement; attributive clause; adjective clause [19].

For the clause coming last: declarative, or subordinate statement; adverbial clause of time; adverb clause.

The next question is, what are we to make of all this variety of possible treatments, and what classification, or what classifications of subordinate clauses should be accepted as the most rational? It is perhaps best to start with the last of the enumerated views, viz. that which draws a parallel between subordinate clauses and parts of speech. There is little to be said in favour of this view. The strongest argument here is probably the fact that in Modern English a clause may sometimes be treated like a noun, namely when it is introduced by a preposition, as, for instance, in the following sentence: But after the initial dismay he had no doubt as to what he must do.

This seems practically the only feature which shows some likeness between clauses of the given kind and nouns as such. As for the rest, the analogy is merely one of function: clauses and parts of speech resemble each other only in so far as both of them can perform certain functions in the sentence, viz. that of subject, object, or attribute. This kind of similarity can hardly be said to be a sufficient ground for classifying clauses according to parts of speech. The term noun clause, for example, can only mean a clause which performs in a complex sentence one of the functions which a noun can perform in a simple sentence. In a similar way, the term adjective clause would mean a clause which performs in a complex sentence one of the functions that an adjective can perform in a simple sentence. This treatment of clauses does not appear to have any serious foundation, and the only consideration in favour of it, that of clauses sometimes being introduced by prepositions (as if they were nouns), is not strong enough to prove the case. We will therefore not adopt the classification of subordinate clauses based on comparing them with parts of speech. Now let us consider the principle according to which declarative and interrogative clauses (or subordinate statements and subordinate questions) are given as types. This principle has certainly something to say for itself.

The difference between the subordinate clauses in the following two sentences viewed from this angle is clear enough: However, she felt that something was wrong.

Thereafter, when they talked it over, they always wondered why they had failed to notice Scarlett's charms before. (Idem) It may accordingly be adopted as a criterion for the classification of subordinate clauses. It has a weak point, however, and this is that not every clause will fit into either of these categories. For instance, the subordinate clause in the following sentence cannot naturally be termed either a declarative or an interrogative clause: If he had been destitute and she had had money she would have given him all he wanted.

The clause if money expresses condition, it neither asserts anything nor does it ask any question. There are, of course, a number of clauses of a similar kind. It would appear, therefore, that the distinction between declarative and interrogative clauses (subordinate statements and subordinate questions) applies to certain types of clauses only and cannot be made a general principle of classification. The term relative clause may very well be applied to any clause introduced by a relative pronoun or relative adverb. O. Jespersen devotes several chapters of his book A Modern English Grammar to relative clauses. In accordance with his general view that elements of language may be divided into primaries, adjuncts, and subjuncts, he treats the syntactical functions of subordinate clauses as falling under these heads: relative clauses as primaries and relative clause adjuncts. From the viewpoint of function the subordinate clauses of these types are of course quite different, yet they may be all termed relative clauses [25]. This makes it evident that the notion relative clause is not a notion of syntactic function, since it cuts right across syntactical divisions. It is also evident that the term relative clause cannot be an element of any system: the clauses which are not relative do not make any kind of syntactical type which might be put on the same level as relative clauses: what unites them all is merely the fact that they are non-relative. Thus the notion of relative clauses, which is doubtless useful in its limited sphere, as a description of a certain type of subordinate clauses characterised by a peculiarity they all share, is useless as an element of a general classification of clauses. In that respect it is no better than declarative or interrogative clauses. There remains now the classification of subordinate clauses based on the similarity of their functions with those of parts of the sentence, namely the classification of clauses into subject, predicative, object, attributive, adverbial, appositional, and parenthetical clauses. In this way the general parallelism between parts of a simple sentence and subordinate clauses within a complex sentence will be kept up; however, there is no sufficient ground for believing that there will be complete parallelism in all respects and all details: on the contrary, it is most likely that differences between the two will emerge (especially in the sphere of adverbial modifiers and adverbial clauses). Subordinate clauses may well be expected to have some peculiarities distinguishing them from parts of a simple sentence. In studying the several types of subordinate clauses, we will compare them with the corresponding parts of a simple sentence, and point out their peculiarities, and the meanings which are better rendered by a subordinate clause than by a part of a simple sentence. With this proviso we proceed to examine the various types of clauses.

Table 2. Types of adverbial clauses




I'll show it to you [when you come back]; or [When you come back], I'll

We could do it [whenever you like]

when, whenever, while, as, since / ever since,

after, before, until/till, as soon as, then, during,

the sooner, no soonerthan, hardly when, immediately, the moment, the minute


I am always meeting her [where I least expect her]

where, wherever


He solved the problem [as one might have expected]

as, as if, as though


He writes [as incoherently as he speaks]

Her stepmum treated her more kindly [than any real mum would have done]

as (asas, not soas, as muchas),

more/-er.than, lessthan


He stole the money [because he was out of work]

[Since we haven't seen him], we must assume he isn't coming

[Having heard nothing from her], we assumed she wasn't coming (reversible +,)

because, as, since, for (sometimes: if), seeing that

Alternative linkers: so, therefore


She spent most of her time studying [so that she might later get a better job]

[To speed up the job], she bought a computer (it can be reversed)

so that, in order that, for fear that, in case, lest,

Non-finite purpose: to-infinitive (specific), for + - ing (general), in order to, so as to, for +noun/pron+ to-inf


The boy was so exhausted [that he fell asleep on the bus]

Weapon production is now increasing so much [as to constitute a major problem]


so+ adj/adv + that

such + (adjective+) noun + that


[If I were rich], I would go on a world cruise (It can be reversed)

We could leave now [provided we called her first]

if, unless, whether

whetheror not, as/so long as, provided that, supposing, on condition that


[Although she is over eighty], she's still very active (reversed;,)

Alternative link: in spite of the fact that

although/though, even though, even if,

while, no matter, however + adj/adv, whatever, wherever, whenever, as + be

2. Examples of different subordinate clauses in Modern English

2.1 Punctuation peculiarities and subordinating conjunctions

A CONJUNCTION is a word that connects or joins together words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. There are two kinds of conjunctions, a primary class of COORDINATING conjunctions and a secondary class called SUBORDINATING or SUBORDINATE conjunctions. There are also words called CONJUNCTIVE ADVBERBS; these conjunctive adverbs sometimes act a bit like conjunctions, but at other times act like plain old adverbs.

Conjunctive adverbs are sometimes used as simple adverbs. If they do not connect independent clauses, they are not conjunctive adverbs. Then, they are merely adverbs modifying a verb, adjective, or another adverb. For instance, in the sentences below, the words accordingly, still, and instead are adverbs. When functioning this way, the adverb needs no punctuation to separate it from the surrounding material. For example, see the following sentences:

I knew the test would be hard, so I planned accordingly to study for several hours.

I was still studying at six o'clock in the evening!

Joey decided to go to a party instead.

In these examples above, there is no comma needed before the words accordingly, still, and instead. That's because they are acting like adverbs, modifying verbs like planned and was studying, and decided.

The tricky part is that these same adverbs can also transform into conjunctive adverbs. Conjunctive adverbs can be used with a comma to introduce a new independent clause, or they can help connect two independent clauses together after a semicolon. Typically, each conjunctive adverb is followed by a comma. For example, look at the comma usage below:

Joey had an upset stomach. Accordingly, he took antacid tablets.

Joey had an upset stomach; accordingly, he took antacid tablets.

The antacids must not have worked. Otherwise, he would quit complaining.

The antacids must not have worked; otherwise, he would quit complaining.

The antacids didn't work for Jill either. Instead, they made her feel even more sick.

The antacids didn't work for Jill either; instead, they made her feel even more sick.

Here, the conjuctive adverb helps connect the ideas of the two sentences together. Note also that after a semicolon, the word beginning the next independent clauses needs no capitalization.

(A) Two independent clauses can be joined by a comma and a pure conjunction. However, a comma by itself will not work. (Using a comma without a conjunction to hook together two sentences creates a comma splice!)

[Independent Clause], pure conjunction [independent clause].

Examples: The gods thundered in the heavens, and the mortals below cowered in fear.

I dodged the bullet, but Joey was shot seventeen times in the tibia.

Susan appreciated the flowers, yet a Corvette would be a finer gift.

(B) Two independent clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb are separated by a semicolon. However, the writer still needs to insert a comma after the conjunctive adverb.

[Independent clause]; conjunctive adverb, [independent clause].

Examples: The gods thundered in the heavens; furthermore, the mortals below cowered in fear.

The bank robber dodged the bullet; however, Joey was shot seventeen times in the tibia.

Susan appreciated the flowers; nevertheless, a Corvette would be a finer a gift.

(C) Two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction are separated by a semicolon.

[Independent clause]; [independent clause].

Examples: The gods thundered in the heavens; the mortals below cowered in fear.

The bank robber dodged the bullet; Joey was shot seventeen times in the tibia.

Susan appreciated the flowers; a Corvette would be a finer gift.

In the examples above, you can see that the semicolon does the same job as both a comma and a conjunction.

(D) A dependent clause at the beginning of a sentence is introductory, and like most bits of introductory material, it is usually followed by comma. A dependent clause following the main (independent) clause is usually not punctuated.

Examples Using Introductory Clauses:

While the gods thundered in the heavens, the mortals below cowered in fear.

As the bank robber dodged the bullet, Joey was shot seventeen times in the tibia.

Though Susan appreciated the flowers, a Corvette would be a finer gift.

But on the other hand, no punctuation is necessary for the dependent clause following the main clause:

The gods thundered in the heavens as mortals below cowered in fear.

The bank robber dodged the bullet while Joey was shot seventeen times in the tibia.

Susan appreciated the flowers even though a Corvette would be a finer gift.

English has a wide range of subordinate conjunctions: that, if, though, although, because, when, while, after, before, and so forth. They are placed before a complete sentence or independent clause to make that clause dependent. This dependent clause now needs to attach to another clause that is independent. Otherwise, a sentence fragment results:

While the State exists, there can be no freedom. When there is freedom there will be no State.

If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there would be peace.

I can believe anything, provided that it is quite incredible.

Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day.

A platitude is simply a truth repeated until people get tired of hearing it.

I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again.

Most subordinate clauses are signalled by the use of a subordinating conjunction. There are three main types:

- simple subordinators consist of one word:

although, if, since, that, unless, until, whereas, while, etc.

- complex subordinators consist of more than one word:

in order that, such that, granted (that), assuming (that), so (that), as long as, insofar as, in case, etc.

- correlative subordinators consist of 'pairs' of words which relate two parts of the sentence:

as so, scarcely when, if then, etc.

I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner.

These are white-looking figures, whereas the men who are about to spar have on dark headguards that close grimly around the face like an executioner's hood.

2.2 Selection of sentences with different types of subordinate clauses

Let's, mention once more that a subordinate clause is a clause that supports ideas stated in the main clause. Subordinate clauses are also dependent on main clauses and would be otherwise incomprehensible without them.

For example:

Because I was leaving.

Concessive Clauses

Concessive clauses are used to concede a given point in an argument. The principle concessive conjunctions introducing a concessive clause are: Though, although, even though, while, and even if. They can be placed at the beginning, internally or at the of the sentence. When placed at the beginning or internally, they serve to concede a certain part of an argument before proceeding to question the validity of the point in a given discussion.

For example:

Even though there are many advantages to working the night shift, people who do so generally feel that the disadvantages greatly outweigh any financial advantages that might be gained.

By placing the concessive clause at the end of the sentence, the speaker is admitting a weakness or problem in that particular argument.

For example:

I tried hard to complete the task, though it seemed impossible.

Other examples of concessive clauses are given below.

Despite /in spite of the rain, he walked to the station.

Despite /in spite of being tired, he walked to the station.

The caf was crowded, but we found a table.

Benjamin has a car, but he doesn't often drive it.

Although the caf was crowded, we found a table.

Although Benjamin has a car, he doesn't often drive it.

Although he was tired, he couldn't get to sleep', the first clause is a concessive clause.

I think his name is John, although I'm not completely sure about that.

While I am willing to help, I do not have much time available.

I'm going to the party even though (even if) it rains.

Although he had laughed at me, (nevertheless) I did not become angry.

Although we had seen them, nevertheless we did not want to speak.

Although we are in Italy, nevertheless we shall not go to Rome.

Time Clauses

Time clauses are used to indicate the time that an event in the main clause takes place. The main time conjunctions are: when, as soon as, before, after, by the time, by. They are placed either at the beginning or the end of a sentence. When placed at the beginning of the sentence, the speaker is generally stressing the importance of the time indicated.

For example:

As soon as you arrive, give me a call.

Most often time clauses are placed at the end of a sentence and indicate the time that the action of the main clause takes place.

For example:

I had difficulties with English grammar when I was a child.

Below we will give some other examples of sentences, which contain time clauses.

When I went to Regina, I visited my aunt.

I visited my aunt when I went to Regina.

After Francois ate dinner, he went to the movies.

Francois went to the movies after he ate dinner.

Before I went to bed, I finished my homework.

I finished my homework before I went to bed.

While I was having a shower, the phone rang.

The phone rang while I was having a shower.

When the phone rang, I was having a shower.

I was having a shower when the phone rang.

When the phone rang, I answered it.

I'll do it when I come back home.

Whenever you need my car you can take it.

Don't stand up till (until) I tell you.

I have wanted to be a pilot since I was a child.

I will phone you as soon as he arrives.

We'll deliver the goods as soon as we can.

While we are cutting the grass you'll pick the apples.

By the time you get there, the shop will be closed.

She's planning to get married next year, by which time she hopes to have a new job.

Place Clauses

Place clauses define the location of the object of the main clause. Place conjunctions include where and in which. They are generally placed following a main clause in order to define the location of the object of the main clause.

For example:

I will never forget Seattle where I spent so many wonderful summers.

I was there before I came here.

She stood where I had left her.

She wiped her face with the back of her hand and looked where he looked.

As I was going down the road, I met your sister.

I won't leave until you come.

I haven't seen her since she left school.

After the agreement had been signed, the delegation left Moscow.

We have not had any news from him since he left Moscow.

I shall stay here until (till) yon return.

I'll buy that novel when it comes out.

You will be informed as soon as he comes.

By the time you come, I shall be ready.

While you are having dinner, I shall be reading the newspaper.

When I come back, I'll call you.

While he was explaining all this, the phone rang.

While I was sitting in the garden, he came up to me.

As I was coming here, I met your brother.

It was late when I went home.

He was reading when I entered the room.

Reason Clauses

Reason clauses define the reason behind a statement or action given in the main clause. Reason conjunctions include because, as, due to, and the phrase that the reason why. They can be placed either before or after the main clause. If placed before the main clause, the reason clause usually gives emphasis to that particular reason.

For example:

Because of the tardiness of my response, I was not allowed to enter the institution.

Generally the reason clause follows the main clauses and explains it.

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