Clauses - English Grammar Today - Cambridge Dictionaries Online


from English Grammar Today

Clauses: introduction

A clause is the basic unit of grammar. Typically a main clause is made up of a subject (s) (a noun phrase) and a verb phrase (v). Sometimes the verb phrase is followed by other elements, e.g objects (o), complements (c), adjuncts (ad). These other elements are sometimes essential to complete the meaning of the clause:

[S]Sarah [V]smiled.

[S]Jo [V]doesn’t feel [C]well.

Not: Jo doesn’t feel. (well is essential because it completes the meaning of feel.)

[S]They [V]haven’t posted [O]all the invitations. (post is a transitive verb which needs an object, all the invitations)

The underlined words are not essential to complete the clause:

[S]I[V]’ll call [O]you [AD]later.

[S]All the girls [V]laughed [AD]loudly.

When we give a command, we don’t usually use a subject:

Be careful!


When we do use the subject, it is to reinforce the instruction or to make clear exactly who the speaker is talking to:

You be careful.

Main (independent) clauses and subordinate (dependent) clauses

Main (or independent) clauses can form sentences on their own. They aren’t dependent on other clauses. They are always finite (they must contain a verb which shows tense).

Subordinate (or dependent) clauses cannot form sentences on their own. They are dependent on main clauses to form sentences. They can be finite or non-finite (the main clauses are in bold; the subordinate clauses are underlined):

I didn’t go to work because I wasn’t feeling very well.

He studied violin and mathematics before taking a medical degree and doing postgraduate work in biophysics at Harvard.

She had pretty hair and must have been nice-looking when she was young.

If I tell him will he be angry?

Clauses: coordinated

We can combine clauses of the same grammatical type to form sentences using coordinating conjunctions:

[main clause]I’ll take the train and [main clause]you can take the car.

I’ll give you a call [subordinate clause]if I’m going to be late or [subordinate clause]if I’m not coming.

You can use the phone [non-finite clause]to receive calls but [non-finite clause]not to make them.

We don’t create coordinated clauses with clauses of a different grammatical type. For example we cannot coordinate a main clause and a subordinate clause:

Ten minutes passed and no one had come.

Not: Ten minutes passed and if no-one had come.

(“Clauses” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press.)
Add Cambridge dictionaries to your browser to your website
Word of the Day

stop at nothing

If you stop at nothing to achieve something, you are willing to do anything in order to achieve it, even if it involves danger, great effort, or harming other people.

Word of the Day

There is no such thing as a true synonym in English. Discuss!
There is no such thing as a true synonym in English. Discuss!
by Kate Woodford,
November 25, 2015
In the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary the word ‘synonym’ is defined as ‘a word or phrase that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word or phrase in the same language’. As you might expect, definitions for this word are broadly similar in other dictionaries and yet the italicized

Read More 

climatarian adjective
climatarian adjective
November 23, 2015
choosing to eat a diet that has minimal impact on the climate, i.e. one that excludes food transported a long way or meat whose production gives rise to CO2 emissions Climate change is not normally on people’s minds when they choose what to have for lunch, but a new diet is calling for

Read More