Dependent Clauses | Examples, Definition & Types

Sentence and word structure updated on  February 26, 2024 4 min read

A dependent clause is a type of clause—a group of words that contains a subject and a verb—that cannot stand on its own as a sentence. Dependent clauses are also known as subordinate clauses.

A dependent clause must always be connected to an independent clause (also known as a main clause) to form a complete sentence.

Dependent clause examples
Jonas went to the bakery because he wanted a pastry.
If it rains, we will move inside.
I want the scarf that Yuki made.

Independent and dependent clauses

An independent clause can be a complete sentence on its own. That is, independent clauses contain a subject and a verb and express a complete thought.

Independent clause examples
I went to the park.
Eliza is late.

Dependent clauses, on the other hand, cannot stand alone as a sentence. They are considered sentence fragments when written on their own.

In the examples below, notice that when a word (sometimes called a dependent marker) is added in front of the independent clause, it becomes a dependent clause.

Sentence fragment examples
When I went to the park.
Because Eliza is late.

A dependent clause must be joined to an independent clause to form a complete sentence.

Dependent and independent clause examples
When I went to the park, I saw a puppy.
We will miss our bus because Eliza is late.

Types of dependent clauses

Dependent clauses can act as either an adverb, an adjective, or a noun in sentences.

Adverbial clause

An adverbial clause is a dependent clause that acts as an adverb in a sentence by modifying a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Adverbial clauses often answer questions such as when, where, why, how, or under what conditions.

Adverbial clause examples
Take out the trash before you go to work.
If Carlos doesn’t want to go to the concert, I’ll go with you.

When the adverbial clause comes before the independent clause, it must be followed by a comma. However, when the adverbial clause follows the independent clause, no comma is needed.

Adverbial clause comma placement examples
Because it’s a holiday, the bank is closed.
Because it’s a holiday the bank is closed.
The bank is closed because it’s a holiday.
The bank is closed, because it’s a holiday.

Note
There may be exceptions to this guideline. For example, there are a few instances where a comma before “because” might be preferred, specifically when “because” is used to introduce a reason that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

However, in most cases, the rule that a comma should not be used when an adverbial clause follows an independent clause can be followed.

Adjective clause

An adjective clause (also called a relative clause) is a dependent clause that acts as an adjective in a sentence to give more information about a noun or pronoun.

Adverbial clause examples
The woman who lives next door is an architect.
Amari wants a cortado, which is made with equal parts milk and espresso.

In the examples above, the relative pronoun (e.g., “who,” “which,” “that”) acts as the subject of the clause. An adjective clause can’t be placed at the beginning of a sentence because it must follow the noun or pronoun it describes.

The use of commas with an adjective clause depends on the intended meaning of the sentence. Commas are needed for nonrestrictive clauses, which provide nonessential information (e.g., “I am going to Dresden, which is in Germany”). However, they are not needed for restrictive clauses, which provide essential information (e.g., “Book the flight that has the fewest stops”).

Note
Which and that are commonly used to introduce adjective clauses. However, in American English, they are not used interchangeably: “that” is typically used to introduce restrictive clauses, and “which” is used to introduce nonrestrictive clauses.

The QuillBot Grammar Checker can help ensure you’re using restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses correctly.

Noun clause

A noun clause is a dependent clause that acts as a noun in a sentence. Like all nouns, it can serve as a subject or an object.

Noun clause examples
Whatever you want to eat is fine with me. [subject]
Ian always asks why I live so far from the train station. [direct object]

My availability depends on what Prof. Pierce assigns this week. [object of a preposition]

Commas are not typically used to join a noun clause to the rest of the sentence.

Common dependent clause markers

Dependent clauses are usually marked by certain words at the beginning of the clause. These words can be useful in identifying dependent clauses.

Subordinating conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions are words or phrases that are used to link a dependent clause (especially an adverbial clause) to an independent clause (e.g., “When Peter gets here, we will eat dinner”).  

Subordinating conjunctions can be grouped based on the function they fulfill in the sentence. For example, they might give information about time or place, state a reason or condition, or grant a concession.

The table below gives some common examples of different types of subordinating conjunctions.

Common subordinating conjunctions

Type

Examples

Time

when, whenever, before, after, while, until, as, as soon as, since, once

Place

where, wherever

Reason

because, in order, since, so that, as

Condition

if, even if, whether, unless

Concession

although, though, whereas, while

Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns are used to introduce adjective clauses (also called relative clauses) and noun clauses.

Common relative pronouns include the following:

  • that
  • which
  • who
  • whom
  • whose
  • where
  • when

It is sometimes possible to omit the relative pronoun in a dependent clause.

Optional relative pronoun examples
Magda told me [that] she isn’t coming.
This is the person [whom] I want to marry.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Common mistakes

Commonly confused words

Rhetoric

Whoa or woah

Advisor vs adviser

Metonymy

Theirs or their's

Accept vs except

Synecdoche

Ours or our's

Affect vs effect

Verbal irony

Forty or fourty

Among vs between

Irony

Sence or sense

Anymore vs any more

Grawlix


Frequently asked questions about dependent clause

What is the difference between an independent clause and a dependent clause?

An independent clause can be a complete sentence on its own (e.g., “Amal went to the festival”). A dependent clause, on the other hand, must always be connected to an independent clause to form a complete sentence (e.g., “When Amal went to the festival, he saw his favorite band”).

How can dependent clauses be identified?

Dependent clauses typically begin with a word called a dependent marker. This dependent marker can be either a subordinating conjunction (e.g., “because,” “before,” “unless”) or a relative pronoun (e.g., “that,” “which,” “who”).

What are the types of dependent clauses?

There are three types of dependent clauses: adverbial clauses, adjective clauses, and noun clauses. Dependent clauses are categorized into these types based on the role they play in a sentence.

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Kayla Anderson Hewitt

Kayla has a master's degree in teaching English as a second language. She has taught university-level ESL and first-year composition courses. She also has 15 years of experience as an editor.

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