What Is a Subordinate Clause? (with Examples)

What Is a Subordinate Clause? (with Examples)

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

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

Examples of Subordinate Clauses

Here are some examples of subordinate clauses (shaded). You will notice that none of the shaded clauses could stand alone as a sentence. This is how a subordinate clause (or a dependent clause) is different from an independent clause.
  • She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit. (W Somerset Maugham, 1874-1965)
  • A musicologist is a man who can read music but can't hear it. (Sir Thomas Beecham, 1879-1961)
  • Always be nice to those younger than you because they are the ones who will be writing about you. (Cyril Connolly, 1903-1974)
  • Personally I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught. (Sir Winston Churchill, 1874-1965)

Types of Subordinate Clause

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

The Adjective Clause. Here is an example of a subordinate clause acting as an adjective:
  • The bull that charged us is back in the field.
  • (The subordinate clause that charged us describes the bull. It is an adjective clause.)
The Adverbial Clause. Here is an example of a subordinate clause acting as an adverb:
  • I fished until the sun went down.
  • (The subordinate clause until the sun went down modifies the verb to fish. It is an adverbial clause.)
The Noun Clause. Here is an example of a subordinate clause acting as a noun:
  • Whoever dislikes the new timings is more than welcome to leave.
  • (The subordinate clause Whoever dislikes the new timings is the subject of this sentence. It is a noun clause.)

The Link between a Subordinate Clause and an Independent Clause

When a subordinate 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 subordinate clause).

The link between a subordinate clause and an independent clause will often be a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun. For example:
  • I fished until the sun went down.
  • (subordinating conjunction in bold)
  • The bull that charged us is back in the field.
  • (relative pronoun in bold)

Subordinating Conjunctions and Relative Pronouns Used with Subordinate 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)

See Also

What is a clause? What is an independent clause? What are adjective clauses? What are adverbial clauses? What are noun clauses? What is a subordinating conjunction? What is a relative pronoun? Glossary of grammatical terms