Dependent Clause

A dependent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and verb but is dependent on another independent clause in a sentence. Dependent clauses, if we take them by themselves, are not capable of being their own sentences. For this reason, dependent clauses are often called subordinate clauses because they are subordinate to a main clause within the sentence. For example,

  • After he hit the ball, John ran to first base.

In the above example, “After he hit the ball” is a dependent clause because it depends on the independent clause “John rand to first base” in order to make sense. For example,

  • After he hit the ball.

This construction does not make any sense, showing that it is a dependent clause. Contrast this with the independent clause,

  • John ran to first base.

This still makes complete sense and is a grammatically complete sentence.

Dependent clauses begin with either a subordinating conjunction, such as although, after, if, because, since, or a relative pronoun, such as who, which, what, when. A comma should follow dependent clauses if they appear before an independent clause. For example,

  • After he hit the ball, John ran to first base.

If a dependent clause appears after an independent clause, a comma should also set it off unless the dependent clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence (a restrictive clause). For example,

  • John ran to first base, after he hit the ball.

But

  • We will give you a job if you accept the conditions.

In the first example, “after he hit the ball” is merely supplementary or parenthetical information so a comma sets off the dependent from the independent clause. In the second example, however, “if you accept the conditions” is essential to the meaning of the sentence, because you will be given a job unless you accept the conditions that are set out.

For more information about how dependent clauses interact with sentences, check out our full page on combining sentences into larger units.

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