Dependent Clause Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

In English grammar, a dependent clause is a group of words that has both a subject and a verb but (unlike an independent clause) cannot stand alone as a sentence. Also known as a subordinate clause.

Dependent clauses include adverb clauses, adjective clauses, and noun clauses.

Although exceptions can be found, a dependent clause at the beginning of a sentence is usually followed by a comma (as in this sentence).

However, when a dependent clause appears at the end of a sentence, it's not usually set off with a comma, though again (as in this sentence) there are exceptions.


Examples and Observations

  • "A dependent clause (also called a subordinate clause) is a clause that cannot stand alone because something about it implies that there is more to come. On its own, a dependent clause is left hanging, its meaning incomplete. It must be combined with an independent clause in order to form a complete sentence.

    "One type of dependent clause is essentially an independent clause with a subordinating word tacked on. Specifically, it opens with a conjunction that indicates a dependent relationship with information elsewhere in the sentence."
    (Anne Stilman, Grammatically Correct. Writer's Digest Books, 1997)
  • "My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them."
    (Mitch Hedberg)
  • "When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people."
    (Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, 1955)
  • "Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until the urge passes."
    (attributed to Robert M. Hutchins)
  • "I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught."
    (Winston Churchill, speech to the British House of Commons, 1952)
  • "A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new."
    (attributed to Albert Einstein)
  • "Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."
    (attributed to Mark Twain)
  • "If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"
    (attributed to Albert Einstein)
  • "We learn what we have said from those who listen to our speaking."
    (Kenneth Patchen)
  • "I still need the camera because it is the only reason anyone is talking to me."
    (Annie Leibovitz)
  • "It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was."
    (Anne Sexton)

Dependent Clauses Inside Other Dependent Clauses

"There can be levels of complexity within complex sentences. Within a dependent clause, for instance, there can be another dependent clause. For example, in the following sentence there is a main clause . . ., a dependent clause in an adverbial relationship with the main clause (in italics), and a dependent clause [bold italics] in an adverbial relationship with the first dependent clause:

If you want to survive the elements when you go hiking, you should remember to bring along a drink, pocket knife, whistle, map, torch, compass, blanket and food.

(Peter Knapp and Megan Watkins, Genre, Text, Grammar: Technologies for Teaching and Assessing Writing.

University of New South Wales Press, 2005)

Pronunciation: de-PEN-dent claws

Also Known As: subordinate clause