French Subordinate Clause: French Grammar and Pronunciation Glossary

A subordinate clause, or 'proposition subordonnée,' depends on the main clause.

Evening light over flower market
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A subordinate clause, or proposition subordonnée, does not express a complete idea and cannot stand alone. It must occur in a sentence with the main clause and may be introduced by a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun. The main clause expresses a complete idea and could normally stand alone (as an independent clause) if it weren't for the subordinate clause dependent on it.

The subordinate clause is in brackets in the following examples:

J'ai dit [que j'aime] les pommes.
I said [that I like] apples.

Il a réussi [parce qu'il a beaucoup travaillé].
He succeeded [because he worked a lot].

L'homme [dont je parle habite ici].
The man [that I'm talking about] lives here.

A subordinate clause, also known as une proposition dépendante, or a dependent clause, is one of three types of clauses in French, each of which contains a subject and a verb: the independent clause, the main clause, and the subordinate clause. 

Subordinating conjunctions join dependent clauses to main clauses, as opposed to coordinating conjunctions, which join words and groups of words of an equal value.

Coordinating: J'aime les pommes et les oranges. > I like apples and oranges.
Subordinating: J'ai dit que j'aime les pommes. > I said that I like apples.

Subordinating Conjunctions

A subordinate clause cannot stand alone because its meaning is incomplete without the main clause.

In addition, sometimes the dependent clause has a verb form that cannot stand alone. These are some frequently used French subordinating conjunctions that link the subordinate clause with the main clause:

  • quand > when
  • que > that
  • quoique* > even though
  • si > if

      *Quoique must be followed by the subjunctive.

         Comme tu n'es pas prêt, j'y irai seul.
      Since you're not ready, I'll go alone.

         Si je suis libre, je t'amènerai à l'aéroport.
         If I'm free, I'll take you to the airport.

         J'ai peur quand il voyage.
      I'm afraid when he travels.

      Conjunctive Phrases

      There are also widely used conjunctive phrases that function as subordinating conjunctions. Some of these take a subjunctive verb and some also require the ne explétif, the somewhat literary non-negative ne (without pas).

      • à condition que* > provided that
      • afin que* > so that
      • ainsi que > just as, so as
      • alors que > while, whereas
      • à mesure que > as (progressively)
      • à moins que** > unless
      • après que > after, when
      • à supposer que* > assuming that
      • au cas où > in case
      • aussitôt que > as soon as
      • avant que** > before
      • bien que* > although
      • dans l'hypothèse où > in the event that
      • de crainte que** > for fear that
      • de façon que* > in such a way that
      • de manière que* > so that
      • de même que > just as
      • de peur que** >for fear that
      • depuis que > since
      • de sorte que* > so that, in such a way that
      • dès que > as soon as
      • en admettant que* > assuming that
      • en attendant que* > while, until
      • encore que* > even though
      • jusqu'à ce que* > until
      • parce que > because
      • pendant que > while
      • pour que* > so that
      • pourvu que* > provided that
      • quand bien même > even though/if
      • quoi que* > whatever, no matter what
      • sans que** > without
      • sitôt que > as soon as
      • supposé que* > supposing
      • tandis que > while, whereas
      • tant que  > as long as
      • vu que > seeing as/that

      *These conjunctions must be followed by the subjunctive, which is only found in subordinate clauses.
      **These conjunctions require the subjunctive plus ne explétif.

         Il travaille pour que vous puissiez manger.
         He works so that you can eat.

         J'ai réussi à l'examen bien que je n'aie pas étudié.
         I passed the test even though I didn't study.

         Il est parti parce qu'il avait peur.
         He left because he was afraid.

         J'évite qu'il ne découvre la raison.
         I'm avoiding his discovering the reason.

      Relative Pronouns

      A French relative pronoun can also link a subordinate (dependent) clause to a main clause.

      French relative pronouns may replace a subject, direct object, indirect object or preposition. They include, depending on context, quequilequeldont and où and generally translate into English as who, whom, that, which, whose, where, or when. But truth be told, there are no exact equivalents for these terms; see the table below for possible translations, according to part of speech. It is important to know that in French, relative pronouns are required, whereas, in English, they are sometimes optional and might be deleted if the sentence is clear without them.

      Functions and Meanings of Relative Pronouns

      Pronoun  Function(s)Possible Translations
      Indirect object (person)  
      who, what
      which, that, whom
      QueDirect objectwhom, what, which, that
      LequelIndirect object (thing)what, which, that
      Object of de
      Indicates possession
      of which, from which, that
      Indicates place or timewhen, where, which, that

      Additional Resources 

      Subordinating conjunctions
      Relative pronouns
      Si clause
      Main clause
      Relative clause