Understanding Subordinate Clauses and Their Varieties

A complex sentence, by definition, consists of one independent (main) clause and at least one dependent (subordinate) clause.

A subordinate clause, also known as a dependent clause, is a group of words that has both a subject and a verb but cannot stand alone as a complete sentence.

It relies on a main clause (independent clause) to provide a complete thought.

Subordinate clauses can be categorized into three main types based on their grammatical function within a sentence: noun clauses, adverb clauses, and adjective clauses.

Each type serves a different purpose and modifies or complements the main clause in distinct ways.



Noun Clauses:

A noun clause is a group of words that functions as a noun within a sentence.

It can serve as the subject, object, or complement of the main clause.


What she said is important(subject).

I don’t know what to do (object).

The fact that he succeeded is amazing (complement).



Adverb Clauses:

An adverb clause is a group of words that functions as an adverb within a sentence.

It typically provides information about the time, place, manner, reason, condition, or degree of the action in the main clause.


While I was studying, my friends were playing outside (time).

She sings as if she were an angel (manner). Because it was raining, we stayed indoors (reason).



Adjective Clauses (Relative Clauses):

An adjective clause is a group of words that functions as an adjective within a sentence.

It provides additional information about a noun or pronoun in the main clause.


The book that I borrowed from the library is fascinating (modifying the noun book).

The person who helped me is my neighbor (modifying the noun).







Finite Subordinate clauses:

A main clause, or independent clause, is finite. In grammar, a finite clause is one that has a subject and a finite verb.

A finite verb is a verb that is inflected for person and tense and typically indicates a completed action or state.


A subordinate clause can also be finite.

A finite subordinate clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a finite verb but cannot stand alone as a complete sentence.

The finite verb in a subordinate clause is inflected for person and tense, just like in a main clause.




Here are examples of finite subordinate clauses:


Adverbial Finite Subordinate Clause (Time):

After the rain stopped, we went for a walk.



Adjectival Finite Subordinate Clause (Relative Clause):

The woman who lives next door is a doctor.



Nominal Finite Subordinate Clause (Subject):

What you said surprised everyone.



Adverbial Finite Subordinate Clause (Reason):

Because she studied hard, she passed the exam.



Adjectival Finite Subordinate Clause (Conditional):

If you finish your homework, you can go out.



Nominal Finite Subordinate Clause (Direct Object):

I believe that honesty is the best policy.







Non-Finite Subordinate clauses:

Subordinate clauses, nevertheless, can be Non-finite.

Non-finite subordinate clauses are characterized by the absence of a finite verb.

A finite verb is a verb that is inflected for person and tense and is typically found in main clauses, marking agreement with the subject and providing information about when the action occurs.

Non-finite verbs, on the other hand, lack this inflection for person and tense.

Let’s explore why the verb in non-finite subordinate clauses is referred to as such:


No Marking of Agreement and Tense:

In non-finite subordinate clauses, the verb remains in its base or root form (infinitive, gerund, or participle) and does not change to reflect the person or number of the subject.

It does not carry information about when the action takes place.

For example:

She wants to visit the museum. (Infinitive, non-finite)

She visits the museum. (Finite)



Cannot Be Modal Auxiliary:

Non-finite verbs cannot function as modal auxiliary verbs.

Modal auxiliary verbs (such as can, could, will, would) are used with the base form of a main verb to express modality, possibility, necessity, etc.

Non-finite verbs do not have the same modal properties.

For example:

She can visit the museum. (Finite)

She wants to visit the museum. (Non-finite)



Subject Is Not in Subject Case:

In non-finite subordinate clauses, the subject of the clause, if present, is often in the objective case or implied, and it does not affect the form of the non-finite verb.

For example:

I saw him running in the park. (Objective case)

She heard them singing in the choir. (Implied subject )                 


Nonfinite Subordinate clauses Types :

There are several types of nonfinite subordinate clauses, including infinitives, gerunds, participles, and verbless clauses.



Infinitive clauses often function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs within a sentence, serve as the direct object of the verb.


She brought a gift for him to open.

They worked hard for the team to succeed.

They gathered resources to build a shelter.

She bought ingredients to bake a cake.

They helped him leave. (bare Infinitive)






Participial clauses function as adjectives, providing additional information about a noun.


The children, playing in the park, laughed joyfully.

The stormy weather, frightening the animals, forced them into hiding.

The story, written by a famous author, captivated the readers.

The exhausted hiker reached the summit, guided by an experienced mountaineer.






Gerund clauses function as nouns, often serving as subjects, objects, or objects of prepositions.

Gerund clauses, being a type of non-finite subordinate clause, can sometimes have the subject omitted, especially when it is the same as the subject of the main clause.

Here are examples:

He’s not very good at remembering names.

She wrote an essay about exploring ancient civilizations.

I was surprised at finding my lost keys.

I was surprised at learning about the sudden change in plans.

They asked him about joining the upcoming project team.





Verbless Clauses:

Verbless clauses, as the name suggests, lack a finite verb.

Instead, they often start with a present or past participle, an infinitive, or a prepositional phrase.

These clauses can function as adverbials, providing information about time, manner, or condition.



Born in Paris, she developed a love for art.

Without hesitation, he jumped into the water.

His passion for painting evident, he spent hours in the studio.

With a smile on her face, she accepted the award.










Subordinate Clauses

Complex Sentences

Compound Sentences

Imperative Sentences

Subject Pronoun/ “One” and “They” as subject meaning

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