Caleb S.
Caleb S.

What are Clauses and How Do They Work in English?

15 min read

Published on: Jun 12, 2024

Last updated on: Jun 20, 2024

clauses, part of speech

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The Cambridge Dictionary defines clauses as, “a group of words that consists of a subject and a definite form of a verb.” 

Clauses are the building blocks of sentences in the English language. The subject (who or what the sentence is about) and the verb (the action or state of being) have a relationship within the clause. 

For example, in the sentence "She runs fast," the clause is "She runs." "She" is the subject, and "runs" is the verb. Together, they make sense and express an action.

It can also be said that a clause constrains a subject and the predicate. Predicate is a part of the clause that contains the verb and provides information about what the subject is doing or the state of being of the subject. It usually comes after the subject.

How do Clauses Function?

But how exactly do they function? Let's break it down:

  • Expressing Actions or States

Clauses help you talk about things that happen or exist.

For example, in the sentence "You eat breakfast," the clause "You eat" tells us that someone is doing the action of eating.

  • Identifying Who or What 

They have a subject, which tells you who or what the sentence is about. 

For instance, in the sentence "The dog barks," the clause "The dog" is the subject, telling you that it's the dog that's doing the action.

  • Providing Information

They can also give extra details to help you understand more about something. They can tell you when, where, why, or how something happens.

For instance, in "He sings beautifully when he's happy," the clause "when he's happy" gives us more information about the circumstances of his singing.

  • Connecting Ideas 

Clauses can connect different parts of a sentence to show how they're related. They can join together to make longer and more complex sentences. 

For instance, in the sentence "You can go to the park if you finish your homework," the clauses "You can go to the park" and "if you finish your homework" are connected to show a condition.

  • Making Complete Thoughts 

They work together to make complete thoughts. Sometimes, one clause by itself doesn't make sense, but when you add another clause, it makes a complete idea. 

For example, "When you wake up" is a clause, but it needs another clause like "you can have breakfast" to make sense as a complete sentence.

  • Acting as Sentence Parts 

Clauses can act as different parts of a sentence, like subjects, verbs, objects, or complements. They help you organize and structure your sentences to convey your message effectively.

Types of Clauses

When you're putting together sentences, it's helpful to know about the different types of clauses. There are two main forms: independent and dependent clauses. Let’s discuss the different types of clauses with examples. 

What is an Independent Clause?

Independent clauses are groups of words that make complete sense on their own. They are like standalone sentences that can express a complete idea. When you read or hear an independent clause, you don't need anything else to understand its meaning.

We also use the name main clause for an independent clause. 

Here are some examples:

  • You went to the park. - This is a complete thought that can stand alone as a sentence.
  • She loves to dance. - This sentence also makes complete sense by itself.
  • They arrived late. - Another example of an independent clause, it's a full idea without needing anything else.

Now, let’s tackle dependent clauses. 

What are Dependent Clauses?

As suggested by the name, dependent clauses are groups of words that cannot make complete sense on their own. They must be attached to an independent clause to form a complete sentence. Think of them as sentence parts that rely on something else to give them full meaning.

Dependent clauses are also often called subordinate clauses. Why? Because they often provide additional information about the main idea conveyed by the independent clause

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • Because you went to the store, you bought groceries. - The dependent clause "Because you went to the store" needs the independent clause "you bought groceries" to complete the idea.
  • After you finish your homework, you can go swimming. - Here, the dependent clause "After you finish your homework" needs the independent clause "you can go swimming" to make sense.
  • That I borrowed from the library, is due tomorrow. - In this example, the dependent clause "That I borrowed from the library" needs the independent clause "is due tomorrow" to form a complete sentence. 

Dependent clauses can be divided into subtypes. Let’s explore them in the next section. 

Types of Dependent Clauses

Based on how they work and function, sentences are categorized into 3 major types. 

  • Adjective Clauses 

Also known as relative clauses, adjective clauses are parts of sentences that act like adjectives. They give you more information about a noun. Let’s say you have a noun in a sentence, like "book." An adjective clause would give extra details about that book.

These clauses often begin with relative pronouns such as who, whom, whose, which, or that.

Here's a simple example:

The book that you lent me is interesting.

In the above sentence, "that you lent me" is the adjective clause. It tells you more about the book. It's similar to saying, "The book is interesting because you lent it to me."

  • Adverbial Clauses 

Adverbial clauses are parts of sentences that act like adverbs. They give you more information about how, when, where, or why something happened. These clauses often begin with subordinating conjunctions such as after, although, because, while, when, or since.

Here are examples of adverbial clauses in action:

You can play outside when the rain stops.

Here, "when the rain stops" is the adverbial clause, telling you when you can play outside. It's just like saying, "You can play outside at the time when the rain stops."

She sings beautifully because she practices every day.

In this sentence, "because she practices every day" is the adverbial clause. It explains why she sings beautifully. It's comparable to saying, "She sings beautifully for the reason that she practices every day."

  • Noun Clauses 

Noun clauses are parts of sentences that work like nouns. They can take the place of a noun in a sentence, acting as subjects, objects, or complements. Noun clauses often begin with words like what, who, where, how, that, or if

Here's an example:

I know what you said.

In the sentence above, "what you said" is the noun clause. It acts as the object of the verb "know." It's like saying, "I know the thing that you said."

Another example:

Whoever arrives first can start the game.

Here, "whoever arrives first" is the noun clause, acting as the subject of the verb "can start." It's like saying, "The person who arrives first can start the game."

How to Merge Clauses to Make Sentences

When writing sentences with multiple main clauses, you'll need to combine them. Each sentence has at least one main clause, which can be joined with other dependent or independent clauses.

Let’s see how you can combine clauses to make complex sentences. 

Use a Comma and a Coordinating Conjunction

If you have two independent clauses that are closely related, you can join them with a comma and a coordinating conjunction. Some common coordinating conjunctions are:

  • and
  • but
  • or
  • nor
  • for
  • yet

For example, You went to the store, and you bought groceries. This creates a compound sentence where both independent clauses are joined using the coordinating conjunction and. 

Use a Semicolon

When you have two independent clauses that are related but don't need a coordinating conjunction, you can use a semicolon to join them. 

For instance, You can go outside; the weather is nice. This also forms a compound sentence. 

Use a Subordinating Conjunction

If you have one or more than one dependent clause and an independent clause, you can connect them using a subordinating conjunction.

For example, You can play outside (main clause) when the rain stops (adverbial clause). This forms a complex sentence where the subordinating conjunction used is when

Use Relative Pronouns

When you have an independent clause and an adjective clause, you can connect them using relative pronouns. 

For instance

  • The book (noun) that you lent me (adjective clause) is interesting. 

This creates a complex sentence where that is the relative pronoun used to combine both clauses. 

You can also create a compound-complex sentence. It contains two or more independent clauses (making it compound) and at least one dependent clause (making it complex).

Here's an example:

  • I went to the store, and I bought some groceries, but I realized I had forgotten my wallet.

In this sentence:

"I went to the store" and "I bought some groceries" are both independent clauses because they can stand alone as complete sentences.

"But I realized I had forgotten my wallet" is a dependent clause because it needs the independent clauses to form a complete thought.

Clauses and Phrases: How Are They Different

A clause is like a middle ground between a phrase and a sentence. It can be a sentence by itself, but a phrase can't. Let’s see what makes phrases and clauses different from each other:





Groups of words containing a subject and a verb. 

Groups of words that do not contain both a subject and a verb. Phrases function as sentence parts or modifiers.


Independent and dependent clauses

Noun, verb, adjective, adverbial phrases

Example 1

"She runs every morning." (Independent clause)

"In the park" (Prepositional phrase)


This is a complete thought with a subject ("She") and verb ("runs"), functioning as a standalone sentence.

This phrase modifies or provides additional information about the location.

Example 2

"When she wakes up." (Dependent clause)

"To the store" (Infinitive phrase)


This clause cannot stand alone as it lacks complete thought. It relies on context.

This phrase acts as a noun, indicating the purpose or destination of an action.

Test Your Understanding with a Clause Quiz

Take this quick quiz to see how well you understand clauses! Each question will present you with a sentence, and you'll need to identify whether it contains a clause or not. 

Choose "Yes" if the sentence contains a clause, and "No" if it does not.

  1. She runs every morning.
    • Yes
    • No
  2. When the sun sets.
    • Yes
    • No
  3. The cat on the roof.
    • Yes
    • No
  4. After we finish dinner.
    • Yes
    • No
  5. He swims in the pool.
    • Yes
    • No
  6. Because it's raining outside.
    • Yes
    • No
  7. They went to the store, and they bought some groceries.
    • Yes
    • No
  8. In the garden.
    • Yes
    • No
  9. She likes to read books.
    • Yes
    • No
  10. Without any hesitation.
    • Yes
    • No

In summary, knowing about clauses helps you build better sentences. They're like the building blocks of writing, showing actions, subjects, and more. By learning how to use different types of clauses and put them together, you can make your writing stronger and easier to understand. 

In this blog, we discussed the importance of clauses in English and how they function within sentences. We also explored the different types along with examples. With the help of our quiz at the end, we’re confident that you’ll have a complete understanding of Clauses. 

So, whenever you want to solidify your concepts of clause in English language, feel free to come back to this blog!

Struggling with Grammar? - Get Help Here!

If you're not sure if you're using words right or following grammar rules in your writing, try our Grammar Checker Tool on It'll tell you instantly if you've made any spelling, punctuation, or structure mistakes. This can help you get better at writing and communicating well.

You can also give our AI essay writer with in-text citations a try and see how it helps with your academic writing tasks!

Continue Learning

If you want to learn more about academic writing, grammar, and related concepts, check out these blogs. 


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Caleb S.


Caleb S. (Mass Literature and Linguistics, Masters)

Caleb S. is an accomplished author with over five years of experience and a Master's degree from Oxford University. He excels in various writing forms, including articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As a valued author at, Caleb assists students and professionals by providing practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style enhancement.

Caleb S. is an accomplished author with over five years of experience and a Master's degree from Oxford University. He excels in various writing forms, including articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As a valued author at, Caleb assists students and professionals by providing practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style enhancement.

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