"What Is a Clause in Grammar?" Oregon State Guide to Grammar

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What is a Clause? - Transcript

Written by J.T. Bushnell, Oregon State University Senior Lecturer

Performed by Carlee Baker, Oregon State M.A. Student
 
A clause, like a phrase, is a group of words. But unlike a phrase, a clause is pretty complete. A clause is a group of words that contains both a subject and a predicate.
 
Charlie runs. There’s a subject; there’s a predicate. It’s a clause.
 
Charlie eats a shoe. Subject, predicate. It’s a clause.
 
Charlie ducks punches in a pawn shop. Subject, predicate. It’s a clause.
 
 
You might notice that all these clauses sound like they could be complete sentences by themselves. And they can. We call these kinds of clauses independent. They don’t depend on any other construction to complete the idea or form a sentence. They can – like Charlie Chaplin when he’s avoiding trouble – stand up by themselves.
 
A dependent clause, on the other hand, can’t stand up by itself. It still has a subject and a predicate, but it depends on something else to complete the idea. If Charlie slips …. Can you feel the hole behind it? You’re sensing its dependence. It has a subject, “Charlie,” and a predicate, “slips,” so we know it’s a clause. But it can’t stand up on its own as a sentence.
 
 
What makes the clause dependent is that first word, “if.” Without it, the clause would work perfectly fine as a sentence: Charlie slips. It would be independent. We call that kind of word a subordinating conjunction. Other subordinating conjunctions are words like “when” and “although” and “because.” Add any of them to an independent clause, and it’ll become dependent.
 
Think of it this way. You start with a perfectly sturdy human being—the independent clause. Then you add a banana peel—the subordinating conjunction. Suddenly, the clause can’t stand on its own anymore. It becomes dependent not because something is missing but because of the add-on.
 
Charlie goes roller skating. Independent. When Charlie goes roller skating …. The subordinating conjunction, “when,” leaves it unable to stand on its own. It becomes dependent.
 
Charlie tries to climb the stairs. Independent. Although Charlie tries to climb the stairs…. The subordinating conjunction, “although,” leaves it unable to stand on its own. It becomes dependent.
 
There’s nothing wrong with dependent clauses as long as you prop them up in your sentences. Usually, you do that with independent clauses. When Charlie goes roller skating – dependent clause – he slips – independent clause. The second clause props up the first, completes the idea, and forms a sentence.
 
 
As we’ll explain in future videos, recognizing the way you’re combining clauses is the key to knowing how to punctuate them. Clauses and phrases are like roadways, and punctuation marks are the traffic signs describing them, signaling where they come together and split apart, shepherding readers safely as they travel toward your meaning.
 

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The Oregon State Guide to Grammar