WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE, EH? PART 11: YES VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SUBORDINATE CLAUSE…

Yesterblog, we introduced you to a new term…actually it was one term with three separate names (all referring to the same thing). A simple sentence (complete thought…make that four names) can also be called a principal or independent clause. 

Today, we’d like you to meet another type of clause (no, it has nothing to do with Santa) called the subordinate or dependent clause. These are incomplete thoughts (but try telling that to a grade 2 student) and, as their name suggests, they cannot stand alone. They are subordinate to or dependent on something else. Any guesses?

Holy grammar, I think you’ve got it! Subordinate clauses must be put in a sentence before or after a principal clause. NEVER ALONE or else you commit another grave grammar no-no called a sentence fragment.

This would be a good time to answer a question we received from an interested party a few days ago. This obviously prudent student wanted to know the difference(s) between a phrase and a clause.

In a nutshell (we prefer pecans), both phrases and clauses are groups of words, however, only clauses contain a subject (noun or pronoun) and predicate (verb). No verb – no clause! It’s as simple as that! Case closed…

So far, in our construction of sentences, we have witnessed the development of simple and compound sentences (see last blog if you forget…silly). Let’s construct something a bit more complex….

Let’s put the spotlight back onto clauses. If we put a principal (independent) clause with a subordinate (dependent) clause in the same sentence, we create a complex sentence. We’re sorry Dr. Freud but the word complex has nothing to do with having feelings of repressed anxiety that might give rise to abnormal or psychological behaviours. Instead, we grammarians like to think of it as interconnectedness or a composition of elements…ooh, that sounds nice! Shall we have a look at a few complex sentences and see for ourselves how uncomplicated they really are?

We reviewed our notes after the lesson ended.

This is an example of a complex sentence. Look for the principal clause…the group of words which have a subject and verb and can stand alone as a complete thought. The remaining cluster or group of words will have its own subject and verb but taken together, CANNOT stand on its own. This will be our subordinate clause. Okay, which is which?

Principal or Independent Clause? ‘We reviewed our notes’ (subject: ‘we’, verb: ‘reviewed’…it stands alone so it is a complete thought)

Subordinate of Dependent Clause? ‘after the lesson ended’ (subject: ‘lesson’, verb: ‘ended’…cannot stand alone so it is not a complete thought)

Holy Santa, we just built ourselves a complex sentence!

If we had to parse the subordinate clause, we’d need a name for the first word ‘after’. We can’t call it a preposition because prepositions start phrases and phrases do not contain a verb.

‘after’ and all words like it that start a subordinate clause shall be called a subordinate conjunction. Great word don’t you think? It does link or join the two clauses together and that’s what conjunctions are supposed to do, so subordinate conjunction it is.

Hey, why don’t we parse the entire complex sentence together!

We reviewed our notes after the lesson ended.

‘We’: subject/bare subject of principal clause (pronoun)

‘reviewed’: bare predicate (action verb)

‘our’: modifies notes (adjective…well, actually it’s real title is pronominal adjective because ‘our’ is from the possessive pronoun family but is being used as an adjective…duplicity in action!)

‘notes’: direct object of verb (tells us what ‘we reviewed’)(noun)

‘after’: introduces the subordinate clause (subordinate conjunction)

‘the’: describes ‘lesson’ (adjective…it’s also called a definite article)

‘lesson’: bare subject of sub. clause (noun)

‘ended’: bare predicate of sub. clause (verb)

Before we give you more examples of complex sentences, here is a list of common subordinate conjunctions that will help you to readily identify subordinate or dependent clauses:

although, as, as if, as long as, as much as, as soon as, as though, because, before, even, even if, even though, if, if only, if when, if then, in order that, just as, now, now that, once, provided, provided that, rather than, since, so that, supposing, than, that , though, unless, until, when, whenever, where, whereas, whether, which, while, who, whoever and why

Keep in mind that some of the above can also act as prepositions which start phrases. The  determining factor will be if the group of words contains a verb. If so, then the word is a subordinate conjunction. We hope that clears the air!

Here are a few more examples of complex sentences. We have outlined the principal clause in bold letters and the subordinate clause in italics.

1. Bloggingfrog and Lily jumped into the pond before the rain started.

2. Because the man failed to pay his taxes, he was sent to jail. (if a sentence begins with a subordinate clause, then you must put a comma after it.)

3. Some anxious people get nervous whenever they think about grammar.

4. Although the landscaper laid new sod, he still had to water it.

5. If a dependent clause stands alone, it is called a sentence fragment.

And there you have it…the complex sentence, which really isn’t so complex. The final stage of sentence construction is just about ready to begin; Lily and I, however, have decided to go for a dip in the pond and catch some rays thereafter. You should do the same…very refreshing and it will undoubtedly keep you focused and thirsty (for knowledge)…our good friends…Splash!

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