clause (grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

MLK I have a dream
"We cannot walk alone" from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech) is an independent clause.. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images


A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. Adjective: clausal.

A clause may be either a sentence (an independent clause) or a sentence-like construction within another sentence (a dependent or subordinate clause).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Types of Clauses

See also:

From the Latin, "the close of a sentence"

Examples and Observations

  • What Is a Clause?
    "Consider the following sentence:
    Tom married Amy when he was 19.
    The string Tom married Amy could be a complete sentence on its own; the additional string, when he was 19, could not be a complete sentence on its own. It is a clause. A clause is a sentence-like construction contained within a sentence. The construction when he was 19 is 'sentence-like' in the sense that we can analyse it in terms of the major sentence elements (subject, verb, etc. . . .). It has its own subject (he), it has a verb (was), and it has a subject complement (19). In addition to these major sentence elements, it has the subordinating conjunction when, which tells us that the clause is a subordinate clause."
    (Sidney Greenbaum and Gerald Nelson, An Introduction to English Grammar, 3rd ed. Pearson, 2009)
  • Types of Clauses and Types of Sentences
    - "We cannot walk alone."
    (Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream")
    Note: "We cannot walk alone" is an independent clause--also known as a main clause. This construction is a simple sentence.

    - "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
    (George Orwell, Animal Farm)
    Note: Orwell's sentence contains two independent clauses joined by the conjunction "and." This combination is called a compound sentence.

    - "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
    (Virginia Woolf, "A Room of Her Own")
    Note: Woolf's sentence begins with an independent clause--"A woman must have money and a room of her own"--and ends with an adverbial clause. This combination is called a complex sentence.

    - "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
    (Ferris Bueller's Day Off)
    Note: "Life moves pretty fast" and "you could miss it" are independent clauses. "If you don't stop and look around once in a while" is an adverbial clause. Therefore, Ferris's first sentence is simple; his second sentence is complex.

    - "I was more independent than any farmer in Concord, for I was not anchored to a house or farm, but could follow the bent of my genius, which is a very crooked one, every moment."
    (Henry David Thoreau)
    Note: Thoreau's sentence contains two independent clauses joined by the conjunction "for"; the second independent clause is interrupted by an adjective clause--"which is a very crooked one." This combination is called a compound-complex sentence.

    - "When I become President of the World I shall hire someone to invent a shower control that a baboon could understand."
    (Joe Bennett, Mustn't Grumble: In Search of England and the English. Simon & Schuster UK, 2006)
    Note: Bennett's complex sentence begins with an adverbial clause and ends with an adjective clause.
  • Clauses and Phrases
    "Clause contrasts with sentence. Except in the case of a whole sentence, which is technically said to be also a clause, a clause is always smaller than the sentence that contains it.

    "Clause also contrasts with phrase. Clauses contain phrases. Clauses are bigger than the simple phrases they contain. The crucial characteristic of a clause, which is lacking from a phrase, is that a clause normally has its own verb and all or many of the other basic ingredients of a whole sentence. So Billy's brand new bicycle and on Sunday morning at ten o'clock are both phrases but not clauses, because neither contains a verb..

    "Clauses can themselves be contained in complex phrases; such clauses are always, by definition, subordinate clauses."
    (James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge University Press, 1994)


Pronunciation: klawz