What is a Clause? Definition, Examples of Clauses in Sentences

Clause Definition: A clause consists of a subject and a verb and is the smallest grammatical unit that expresses a thought.

What is a Clause in a Sentence?

What is a clause? In its simplest form, a clause in grammar is a subject plus a verb. The subject is the entity “doing” the action of the sentence and the verb is the action that subject completes. A clause creates a complete thought (an idea or a statement that can stand alone).

A complete thought is also called a main clause or independent clause (IC).

Examples of clauses:

  • Subject + verb. = complete thought (IC)
  • I eat. = complete thought (IC)
  • Sharon speaks. = complete thought (IC)

A clause may include the verb predicate as well. But, it must include at least the subject and verb to be considered a clause.

Whats a clause grammarExamples of clauses:

  • Subject + verb (predicate). = complete thought (IC)
  • I eat bananas. = complete thought (IC)
  • Sharon speaks loudly. = complete thought (IC)

It should be noted, too, that a clause in a sentence is different from a phrase in that it must contain a subject and a verb.

What is an Independent Clause?

Independent clause definition: An independent clause can stand alone in a sentence. It contains a subject and a verb in its smallest form. A clause may also include modifiers and a verb predicate. It is a complete thought and the smallest unit of grammar that is syntactically accurate.

Example of Independent Clauses:

  • Subject + verb (predicate). = complete thought (IC)
  • I eat bananas. = complete thought (IC)
  • Sharon speaks loudly. = complete thought (IC)

In writing, words and modifiers can be rearranged in independent clauses to create interest.

Example of Independent Clauses:

  • I eat bananas in the kitchen.
  • In the kitchen, I eat.

Here, “I eat” is the subject and verb. An object (“bananas”) and a prepositional phrase (“in the kitchen”) have been added to the clause to make it more specific. The entire sentence is an independent clause because it is a complete thought statement.

Outside Examples of Independent Clauses:

  • While Uber says it is profitable in the US, Lyft has reportedly told investors it will lose $50 million a month this year. –New York Post

In the above example, Lyft has reportedly told investors it will lose $50 million a month this year is an independent clause.

For more information on independent clauses, click here.

What is a Dependent Clauses?

What is clause meaningDependent clause definition: Dependent clauses contain a subject and verb. However, they cannot stand alone as an independent thought. They must be joined with an independent clause to be grammatically correct.

Example of Dependent Clause:

  • Every night before I go to bed, I eat bananas.

This example contains the IC, “I eat bananas.” However, a dependent clause now opens the sentence. While the dependent clause contains a subject and a verb (“I go”), the dependent clause itself cannot stand alone a complete thought.

Example of Dependent Clause:

  • Every night before I go to bed

This is not a complete thought and therefore not a sentence in English. Every night before I go to bed…what happens? This idea must be joined with an independent clause to be grammatically correct.

Outside Examples of Dependent Clauses:

  • While American forces will not be leading the ground war in Syria, they will be involved in military operations and working without proper authorization from Congress. –The New York Times

In the above example, While American forces will not be leading the ground war in Syria is a dependent clause.

For more information on dependent clauses, click here.

More Types of Clauses

What is a Noun Clause?

Noun clause definition: A noun clause is a type of dependent clause that acts as a noun in the sentence. A noun clause will always contain a subject and a verb. However, it cannot stand alone as a complete thought.

Example of Noun Clause:

  • I remember what you said yesterday.

Here, the underlined portion is the independent clause that can stand alone. The italicized words, “what you said yesterday,” serve as a dependent noun clause.

The noun clause is acting as the object of the sentence. In the noun clause “you said” is a subject plus a verb. This creates the clause (a subject plus a verb). However, “what you said yesterday” cannot stand alone and therefore must be paired with an independent clause.

Additional noun clause examples:

  • I thought what she wore was so chic.
  • Whomever you confide in is a person you can trust.

What is an Adjective Clause? (Also called Relative Clause)

Grammar clauses examplesAdjective clause definition: An adjective clause is a type of dependent clause that acts as an adjective in the sentence. An adjective clause will always contain a subject and a verb. However, it cannot stand alone as a complete thought.

An adjective clause will always begin with one of the following words:

Relative Pronouns List:

  • that
  • where
  • who
  • whom
  • which

Relative Adverbs List:

  • when
  • where
  • why

Example of Adjective Clause:

  • The boy who you saw at the store committed a robbery.

The adjective clause is acting as an adjective in this sentence. The adjective clause describes the boy. It contains a subject and a verb, “you saw.” However, it cannot stand alone as a complete thought. “Who you saw at the robbery” is not a complete statement.

Additional adjective clause examples:

  • The store that the boy robbed is on the corner.
  • The corner of the street where my family lives is surrounded by investigators.

For more information on adjective / relative clauses, click here.

What is an Adverbial Clause?

Definition of clause sentenceAdverbial clause definition: An adverbial clause is a type of dependent clause that acts as an adverb in the sentence. An adverbial clause will always contain a subject and a verb. However, it cannot stand alone as a complete thought.

Example of Adverbial Clause:

  • You will continue driving north until you see a stop sign.

The adverbial clause is acting as an adverb in this sentence. The adverbial clause modifies how you will drive. The adverbial clause contains a subject and verb, “you will continue.” However, it cannot stand alone as a complete thought. “Until you see a stop sign” is not a complete statement.

Additional adverbial clause examples:

  • After the movie ended, we ate ice cream.
  • Beth visits her grandfather whenever she is in town.

Summary: What are Clauses in Grammar?

To sum up:

  • Define clause: A clause is a subject plus a verb.
  • Two types of clauses are main/independent clause and dependent clause.
  • An independent clause can stand alone as a complete thought.
  • A dependent clause contains a subject and a verb but cannot stand alone.