What Is an Independent Clause in English?

In English grammar, an independent clause is a group of words made up of a subject and a predicate. Unlike a dependent clause, an independent clause is grammatically complete—that is, it can stand alone as a sentence. An independent clause is also known as a main clause or a superordinate clause.

Two or more independent clauses can be joined with a coordinating conjunction (such as and or but) to form a compound sentence.

Pronunciation

IN-dee-PEN-dent claws

Examples and Observations

  • A clause is a group of words that [contains] a subject and a verb. There are two major types: independent clauses and dependent clauses. An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence, beginning with a capital letter and ending with terminal punctuation such as a period. A dependent clause cannot stand alone as a sentence; instead it must be attached to an independent clause."

    (Gary Lutz and Diane Stevenson, The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference. Writer's Digest Books, 2005)

  • "The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe."

    (H.L. Mencken, "The Beloved Turnkey." Baltimore Evening Sun, February 12, 1923)

  • "In an era when the average man was about five feet tall, the new emperor stood six feet four."

    (Dale Evva Gelfand, Charlemagne. Chelsea House, 2003)

  • "I was born when you kissed me. I died when you left me. I lived a few weeks while you loved me."

    (Humphrey Bogart in the movie In a Lonely Place, 1950)

  • "He was a stocky dark man who wore a snap-brim hat like George Raft. The next morning he hung around the Store until we returned from church."

    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)

  • "Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket."

    (George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, 1936)

  • "Her hat is a creation that will never go out of style; it will just look ridiculous year after year."

    (Attributed to comedian Fred Allen)

  • "Comedy has to be based on truth. You take the truth and you put a little curlicue at the end."

    (Sid Caesar, quoted by Karin Adir in The Great Clowns of Television. McFarland, 1988)

  • "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door."

    (Attributed to comedian Milton Berle)

  • "Roy pulled the attic door open, with a mighty jerk, and father came down the stairs, sleepy and irritable but safe and sound. My mother began to weep when she saw him. Rex began to howl."

    (James Thurber, "The Night the Bed Fell." My Life and Hard Times, Harper & Brothers, 1933)

  • "Quietly he entered the room at the top of the stairs. It was dark inside and he walked with caution. After he had gone a few paces his toe struck something hard and he reached down and felt for the handle of a suitcase on the floor."

    (Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Houghton Mifflin, 1940)

Independent Clauses, Subordinate Clauses, and Sentences

"An independent clause is one that is not dominated by anything else, and a subordinate clause is a clause that is dominated by something else. A sentence, on the other hand, can be made up of numerous independent and/or subordinate clauses, so it can't really be defined in terms of the syntactic concept of clause."

(Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck, Navigating English Grammar: A Guide to Analyzing Real Language. Wiley-Blackwell, 2014)

Exercises