What is a Main Clause? Definition and Examples in English Grammar

Teacher and student at white board in classroom
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Robert Kent / Getty Images

In English grammar, a main clause is a group of words made up of a subject and a predicate. A main clause (unlike a dependent or subordinate clause) can stand alone as a sentence. A main clause is also known as an independent clause, a superordinate clause, or a base clause.

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

Examples and Observations

"[A main clause is a] clause which bears no relation, or no relation other than coordination, to any other or larger clause. Thus the sentence I said I wouldn't is as a whole a single main clause; in He came but I had to leave two main clauses are linked in coordination by but."
(P.H. Matthews, "Main Clause." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics, Oxford University Press, 1997)

  • "While Fern was in school, Wilbur was shut up inside his yard."
    (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web. Harper & Brothers, 1952)
  • "Dinner always took a long time, because Antonapoulos loved food and he was very slow."
    (Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Houghton Mifflin, 1940)
  • "The engagement dinner took a long time but eventually the port was served and the judge was delighted when Colonel Doughty whispered to him. He rose almost immediately."
    (Henry Cecil, The Asking Price, 1966)
  • "I learned to type when I was 12 years old. When I finished the class my father bought me a Royal portable typewriter."
    (Ellen Gilchrist, The Writing Life. University Press of Mississippi, 2005)
  • "They called the baby Meg for short. She was a blond, stocky, serious baby whose silvery eyebrows were quirked in a permanent frown. When she learned to walk, she trudged; if she laughed, it was only after a moment of study."
    (Anne Tyler, Searching for Caleb. Alfred A. Knopf, 1975)
  • In cotton-picking time the late afternoons revealed the harshness of Black Southern life, which in the early morning had been softened by nature's blessing of grogginess, forgetfulness and the soft lamplight."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)
  • "Grandfather, who usually slept in the attic bed when he was with us, had disappeared some days before."
    (James Thurber, "The Night the Bed Fell." My Life and Hard Times, Harper & Brothers, 1933)
  • "When liberty is taken away by force, it can be restored by force. When it is relinquished voluntarily by default, it can never be recovered."
    (American journalist Dorothy Thompson)
  • "Listen now. When people talk listen completely. . . . Most people never listen.
    (Ernest Hemingway, By-Line: Ernest Hemingway. Scribner, 1967)

Main Clauses and Subordinate Clauses

"The basic idea is that the main clause is primary and contains the principal verb. Semantically, the situation expressed in the main clause is foregrounded (i.e., it is the major focus of the construction as a whole). The subordinate clause is secondary in the sense that it provides additional background information that helps to frame the situation described in the primary clause. As Quirk et al. put it, 'A major difference between coordination and subordination of clauses is that the information in a subordinate clause is often placed in the background with respect to the superordinate clause' (1985, p. 919)." (Martin J. Endley, Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar. IAP, 2010)