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What Is a Dependent Clause? (with Examples)

What Is a Dependent Clause? (with Examples)

A dependent clause (or subordinate clause) is one that cannot stand alone as a complete sentence because it does not express a complete thought.

Like all clauses, a dependent clause has a subject and verb.

Examples of Dependent Clauses

Here are some examples of dependent clauses (shaded). Notice how the shaded clauses could not stand alone as sentences. This is how a dependent clause differs from an independent clause.
  • The crew could see the whale, which had surfaced only 50m behind them.
  • Do you know the butcher who went to court on Saturday?
  • I am not tidying the dishes unless Peter helps.
  • The excellence of a gift lies in how appropriate it is rather than how valuable it is.

Types of Dependent Clause

Dependent clauses can act as adjectives, adverbs, or nouns.

The Adjective Clause. Here is an example of a dependent clause acting as an adjective:
  • The car that your wife sold me last week has broken down.
  • (The dependent clause that your wife sold me last week describes the car. It is an adjective clause.)
The Adverbial Clause. Here is an example of a dependent clause acting as an adverb:
  • He literally stitched mail sacks until his fingers bled.
  • (The dependent clause until his fingers bled modifies the verb to stitch. It is an adverbial clause.)
The Noun Clause. Here is an example of a dependent clause acting as a noun:
  • Whoever turned the ovens off is keeping quiet.
  • (The dependent clause Whoever turned the ovens off is the subject of this sentence. It is a noun clause.)

The Link between a Dependent Clause and an Independent Clause

When a dependent clause is used as an adjective or an adverb, it will usually be part of a complex sentence (i.e., a sentence with an independent clause and at least one dependent clause). The link between a dependent clause and an independent clause will often be a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun. For example:
  • He literally stitched mail sacks until his fingers bled.
  • (subordinating conjunction in bold)
  • The car which your wife sold me last week has broken down.
  • (relative pronoun in bold)

Subordinating Conjunctions and Relative Pronouns Used with Dependent Clauses

Here are some more common subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns:

Common Subordinating Conjunctions Relative Pronouns
  • after
  • although
  • as
  • because
  • before
  • even if
  • even though
  • if
  • provided
  • rather than
  • since
  • so that
  • than
  • though
  • unless
  • until
  • whether
  • while
  • how
  • that
  • what
  • when
  • where
  • which
  • who
  • whom
  • whose
  • why
The relative pronouns above are the simple relative pronouns. You can also have compound ones. A compound relative pronoun is formed by adding either ever or soever to a simple pronoun.
  • whoever (who + ever)
  • whosever (whose + ever)
  • (Spelling rule: Don't allow ee.)
  • whosoever (who + soever)
  • whosesoever (whose + soever)
Interactive Test
 
 
Beware
You cannot start a sentence with who or which unless it is a question (i.e., an interrogative sentence). For example:
  • I enjoy weeding. Which is helpful because I have a large garden.
Read more about who and which as interrogative pronouns.