Clause

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In grammar, a clause is a pair or group of words that consists of a subject and a predicate, although in some languages and some types of clauses the subject may not appear explicitly as a noun phrase. It may instead be marked on the verb (this is especially common in null subject languages). The most basic kind of sentence consists of a single clause. More complicated sentences may contain multiple clauses, including clauses contained within clauses.

Clauses are often contrasted with phrases. Traditionally, a clause was said to have both a finite verb and its subject, whereas a phrase either contained a finite verb but not its subject (in which case it is a verb phrase) or did not contain a finite verb. Hence, in the sentence "I didn't know that the dog ran through the yard," "that the dog ran through the yard" is a clause, as is the sentence as a whole, while "the yard," "through the yard," "ran through the yard," and "the dog" are all phrases. However, modern linguists do not draw the same distinction, as they accept the idea of a non-finite clause, a clause that is organized around a non-finite verb.

Functions of dependent clauses

Under this classification scheme, there are three main types of dependent clauses: noun clauses, adjective clauses, and adverb clauses, so-called for their syntactic and semantic resemblance to nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, respectively. In the following English examples, dependent noun clauses are shown in bold:


  • "I imagine that they're having a good time."
  • "I keep thinking about what happened yesterday."

(The word that is optional in the first sentence, highlighting a complication in the entire dependent/independent contrast: "They're having a good time" is a complete sentence, and therefore an independent clause, but "that they're having a good time" is a dependent clause.)

An adjective clause modifies a noun phrase. In English, adjective clauses typically come at the end of their phrase and usually have a relative pronoun forming a relative clause. The pronoun can sometimes be omitted to produce a reduced relative clause:

  • "The woman I saw said otherwise."
  • "I found the book that she suggested to me."

An adverb clause typically modifies its entire main clause. In English, it usually precedes (in a periodic sentence) or follows (in a loose sentence) its main clause. The following adverb clauses show when (with the subordinating conjunction "when") and why (with the subordinating conjunction "because"):

  • "When she gets here, all will be explained."
  • "She's worried because they were already an hour late."

The line between categories may be indistinct, and, in some languages, it may be difficult to apply these classifications at all. At times more than one interpretation is possible, as in the English sentence "We saw a movie, after which we went dancing," where "after which we went dancing" can be seen either as an adjective clause ("We saw a movie. After the movie, we went dancing.") or as an adverb clause ("We saw a movie. After we saw the movie, we went dancing."). Sometimes the two interpretations are not synonymous, but are both intended, as in "Let me know when you're ready," where "when you're ready" functions both as a noun clause (the object of know, identifying what knowledge is to be conveyed) and as an adverb clause (specifying when the knowledge is to be conveyed).

Structures of dependent clauses

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