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Independent and Dependent Clauses

Independent and Dependent Clauses

Author: Martina Shabram

In this lesson, students will learn about the difference between independent and dependent clauses.

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Source: image of dog in doghouse, public domain, http://mrg.bz/Nm0GyA]

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Hello, students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram. And I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts. So let's get started.

So what are our goals for today? Well, we're going to learn about clauses, how to recognize dependent and independent clauses and differentiate between clauses and phrases. Then, we'll practice connecting clauses to create more complicated sentences using tools called conjunctions.

English sentences are composed of clauses and phrases. Understanding how these two units of information work and how to differentiate them is really important because they're each essential elements of clear, comprehensible sentences.

A phrase is a small series of words that convey some meaning. And phrases make up one small part of a sentence. Phrases don't have to have subjects and verbs. And they don't need to express a full thought. Instead, a phrase is just a little chunk of meaning. The most common kind of phrase is a propositional phrase, which looks like this, or like this.

See how each of those phrases is just one little piece of information and sets up more information that's going to come in the rest of the sentence. Propositional phrases are just one of the many types of phrases you can use. Often, phrases act like parts of speech and can offer additional information to a sentence.

For example, look at this sentence. Notice how the phrases add in details that help explain more about the subject and the verb. Clauses, on the other hand, contain more information. A clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb.

Now there are two kinds of clauses-- independent and dependent. What's the big difference? Well, an independent clause is a group of words that can stand alone as a sentence, although it does not have to.

You might remember that a sentence is a subject plus a verb plus a full thought. So an independent clause is going to contain all of those elements and be able to stand on its own as a sentence, if it wants to.

A dependent clause, on the other hand, is a clause that cannot stand on its own as a sentence. It still has a subject and a verb, but it's missing that fully expressed thought that lets an independent clause stand alone. Therefore, a dependent clause is dependent upon connecting to an independent clause in order to become a full sentence.

Now it's really important to be able to put these clauses together correctly in order to create clear sentences so that our readers understand and trust us. So to be good writers, let's master the difference.

Here is an example of an independent clause. This has a subject, a verb, and completes a full thought. So it can stand alone as a sentence. This kind of sentence is called a simple sentence. A simple sentence has one independent clause. And a sentence with two independent clauses is called a compound sentence. We'll talk more about those in a minute.

So here is an example of a dependent clause. Now if I wrote this clause as a full sentence, would that be correct? No. Why? Well, this dependent clause has a subject and a verb, but it's missing a complete thought. We need to know what comes before while in order to understand this thought.

Often, you'll see a dependent clause use something called a subordinating conjunction like while, and, after, where, and until, among others. Those kinds of words make a clause dependent. So we can do two things to make this sentence correct. We can turn this into an independent clause and full sentence by completing the thought, like this.

Or, we can use a coordinating conjunction to combine it with an independent clause. Using a coordinating conjunction will give us a sentence like this. See how now we have a full thought being expressed. A coordinating conjunction connects two independent clauses into a compound sentence.

So as I said, a compound sentence is a sentence that contains two or more independent clauses. Most of the time, a compound sentence will take two clauses that are somehow connected in their content and which are just about equally important to understanding the full thought.

For example, I want to pet that dog and that dog has fleas. Now these are two good pieces of information. And each tells the reader something important about the situation. They can be separate, but if we join them together, then we get a better understanding of what's going on.

I want to pet that dog but he has fleas. Notice that we connected these two clauses with a comma and then the word but, which is a coordinating mating conjunction. So what's a coordinating conjunction, again? It connects two independent clauses into a compound sentence.

Now how do you remember all of these? Well, let's use the acronym FANBOYS. All of these words are common in English, even connecting other words and phrases that aren't clauses. And each mean something really different, changing the implication of a sentence. So when you're using a coordinating conjunction to make a compound sentence, you'll need to select the correct one.

So let's get specific. The word for means essentially because, which points to a cause-effect relationship between the two clauses that it connects.

And tells us that whatever comes after it is going to add in more information that's relevant to the first clause.

Nor is a negating word. So it explains that the two clauses are not, or introduces a clause that will be in the negative.

But connects two clauses by pointing out that the second clause contradicts the first one in some way.

Or offers options. So it indicates that the reader can choose between the two ideas that the two clauses present.

Yet works much like but, but note that it means something very different when you see it outside of a compound sentence.

And finally, so also describes cause and effect, but specifically indicates that the second clause will describe something that is the result of whatever the first clause says.

Let's put some of those to work. In these sentences, notice that the coordinating conjunction changes when we want the meaning of the whole sentence to change. In each sentence, we have a clause, then a comma and a coordinating conjunction, and then the next clause.

In a compound sentence, the comma always comes before the coordinating conjunction. This doesn't mean that a coordinating conjunction should always be preceded by a comma, though. Sometimes, a coordinating conjunction might be used to connect to clauses that aren't independent and don't make a compound sentence, like this.

So let's try these out in a sentence then. Does this sentence make sense? Our first clause indicates that everyone wanted to pet the dog. And the second clause indicates that the dog is happy about that situation. But when the two clauses are connected, the coordinating conjunction yet implies that the second clause negates, complicates, or even contradicts the first, which would mean that the students are not going to be able to pet the dog.

So let's revise this sentence. Much more clear now, isn't it? What about this one? Is this sentence clear? Well, the first clause has the students gathering together and the second clause has them able to pet the dog. The coordinating conjunction and makes sense, but does it make a lot of sense? Is the relationship between the first and the second clause really clear?

I think it could be clearer. So let's try the sentence this way. Now we know that gathering around is meant to facilitate petting, these two clauses are more effectively connected. And whole idea is much more clear.

Now a sentence that is composed of independent and dependent clauses is going to work a little differently than this. These kinds of sentences are called complex sentences, which is where one of the clauses is more important than the other.

Here's an example, what do you see here? We have some clauses. The sentence starts with an independent clause. Here is the subject, and here is the verb. And then we have a dependent clause with its own subject and its own verb. And the two are connected with a subordinating conjunction.

A subordinating conjunction is a word or phrase that connects an independent and dependent clause. Remember, conjunctions are words or phrases that connect parts of a sentence. We've seen coordinating conjunctions. And now we have subordinating conjunctions.

Subordinating conjunctions are used in complex sentences. They indicate that the clause they precede is going to add in the necessary information to complete whatever thought the other clause has started. Some common subordinating conjunctions are after, although, when, while, and until.

Let's see another example. Notice here that the subordinating conjunction is the first word in this sentence and that the dependent clause comes first. That's something you'll see a lot. And note that when the dependent clause is first, it's always followed by a comma before the independent clause. When the independent clause is first, there will be a comma between clauses.

So we learned about phrases, independent clauses, and dependent clauses, and how each comes together as part of a sentence, sometimes with propositional phrases. We learned about the kinds of conjunctions we might use to connect clauses, coordinating conjunctions to connect compound sentences, and subordinating conjunctions to connect complex sentences. And we played around with these different conjunctions in both kinds of sentences, which we can now differentiate from simple sentences.

Well, students, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Notes on "Independent and Dependent Clauses"


(00:00 – 00:09) Introduction

(00:10 – 00:27) Clauses: Independent and Dependent

(00:28 – 01:51) Clauses versus Phrases

(01:52 – 04:19) Independent and Dependent Clauses

(04:20 – 05:03) Compound Sentences

(05:04 – 08:04) Coordinating Conjunctions

(08:05 – 09:29) Complex Sentences

(09:30 – 10:02) Recap and Goodbye

  • Phrase

    A small series of words that convey some meaning.

  • Clause

    A group of words that includes a subject and a verb.

  • Independent Clause

    A group of words that can stand alone as a sentence, although it does not have to do so.

  • Dependent Clause

    A clause that cannot stand on its own as a sentence.

  • Coordinating Conjunction

    Connects two independent clauses into a compound sentence.

  • Compound Sentence

    A sentence that contains two or more independent clauses.

  • Subordinating Conjunction

    Words and phrases that connect an independent clause to a dependent clause.

  • Conjunction

    A word or phrase that connects parts of a sentence.