An independent clause, also called a “main clause,” is a group of words containing a subject and verb that can stand alone as a sentence. Independent clauses, if we take them by themselves, are capable of being their own complete sentences. For example,
- After I go running, I can hardly breathe.
In the above sentence, “I can hardly breathe” is an independent clause because it can stand all by itself and still make sense. If we remove the rest of the sentence, saying “I could hardly breath” makes perfect sense and is also a grammatically complete sentence.
If an independent clause can be its own sentence, then what is the difference between an independent clause and a sentence? Well, in some sense, all independent clauses are sentences because they are all capable of standing by themselves, but a better way to look at their differences is that an independent clause is an element that is found within a sentence. Once you take that independent clause away from the sentence it is in, it then becomes a sentence.
For instance, some sentences (like our above running example) are comprised of a dependent clause and an independent clause. Or others are can be comprised of two independent clauses joined by a conjunction (see below). In these instances, the independent clauses are elements within a larger sentence and once they are taken out of the sentence to stand alone, they also become sentences.
- I ate the pizza, but it wasn’t very good.
This is one sentence composed of two independent clauses.
- I ate the pizza. It wasn’t very good.
Now, when we remove the conjunction, the two independent clauses become two separate sentences.
For more information on combining clauses into larger sentences, visit our full page on combining sentences into larger units.