subordinate clause (grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

The adjective subordinate means in a position of less power and authority than someone or something else. Workers are regarded as subordinate to their bosses. Likewise, a subordinate clause has less "power" than a main clause because (unlike a main clause) a subordinate clause can't stand alone as a sentence. (Curt Walstead/Getty Images)


In English grammar, a subordinate 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 dependent clause. Contrast with main clause and coordinate clause.

Subordinate clauses are usually attached to main clauses or embedded in matrix clauses.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:



Examples and Observations

  • "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."
    (Mark Twain)
  • "That spring, when I had a great deal of potential and no money at all, I took a job as a janitor."
    (James Alan McPherson, "Gold Coast," 1969)
  • "Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today's events."
    (Albert Einstein)
  • "Bailey and I did arithmetic at a mature level because of our work in the store, and we read well because in Stamps there wasn't anything else to do."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969)
  • "If you can't leave in a taxi you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff.
    (Groucho Marx, Duck Soup)
  • "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
    (John F. Kennedy)
  • "When you lose your laugh, you lose your footing."
    (Ken Kesey)
  • "Every book is a children's book if the kid can read."
    (Mitch Hedberg)
  • Grammatical Juniors
    "Subordinate clauses are 'grammatical juniors,' dependent on the main clause for complete sense. They are not subordinate in any other way; they need not be stylistically inferior, and indeed may be more informative than the main clause they depend on, as in this example:
    If you go on with a diet that consists exclusively of cottage cheese, dry toast and Brazil nuts, I shall worry.
    The main clause is 'I shall worry': it is, I think, rather feeble in view of what precedes it, a sad anticlimax to what was promising to be a fairly arresting sentence. But although that previous clause is much more interesting in every other way, it remains grammatically subordinate: it could not stand on its own."
    (Richard Palmer, Write in Style: A Guide to Good English, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2002)
  • Types of Subordinating Conjunctions
    "Finite clauses are introduced by a subordinator, which serves to indicate the dependent status of the clause together with its circumstantial meaning. Formally, subordinating conjunctions can be grouped as follows:
    • simple conjunctions: when, whenever, where, wherever, because, if, unless, until, while, as, although
    • conjunctive groups: as if, as though, even if, even though, even when, soon after, no sooner
    • complex conjunctions:: there are three subclasses:
      (i) derived from verbs . . .: provided (that), granted (that), considering (that), seeing (that), suppose (that), supposing (that), so (that)
      (ii) containing a noun: in case, in the event that, to the extent that, in spite of the fact that, the day, the way
      (iii) adverbial: so/as long as, as soon as, so/as far as, much as, now (that)"
    (Angela Downing, English Grammar: A University Course. Routledge, 2006)
  • Subordinate Clauses in Poetry
    "When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
    When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
    When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
    When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

    How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
    Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
    In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
    Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars
    (Walt Whitman, "When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer." Leaves of Grass)

Pronunciation: suh-BOR-din-it