Independent Clause | Definition, Examples & Use

Sentence and word structure updated on  March 12, 2024 6 min read

An independent clause (also known as a main clause) is a group of words with a main subject and verb. Independent clauses are complete thoughts and full sentences that can stand by themselves.

Independent clauses can occur on their own or be combined with a variety of dependent clauses to express more complex ideas.

Independent clause examples
She loves chocolate cake.
The party lasted all night.
It will rain tomorrow.

What is an independent clause?

An independent clause is a type of clause, or a group of words that contains a subject and a verb, that can function as a full sentence.

The basic components of an independent clause are a main subject and verb. However, independent clauses can be expanded to include many more parts, such as direct objects or prepositional phrases.

The most important qualification for an independent clause is that it is a complete idea that can stand on its own grammatically.

Independent clause examples
They left.
Cacao trees require warm weather and lots of water.
Mi-sun received a beautiful present from Hana.

Note
Complete sentences can be one word when using imperatives to give a command (e.g., “Eat,” “Run!”).

In imperative sentences, the subject of the sentence (“you”) is implied and therefore omitted.

Independent clauses and dependent clauses

Independent clauses are often combined with dependent clauses to express more complex ideas.

Unlike independent clauses, dependent clauses cannot stand on their own and require an independent clause to form a complete sentence. Dependent clauses (also known as subordinate clauses) still have a subject and verb, but they do not express a complete idea.

Dependent clause examples
She loves chocolate cake although she doesn’t like chocolate.
As well as love and care, cacao trees require warm weather and lots of water.
Her face lit up as soon as she saw the box.

Dependent clauses are linked to independent clauses using subordinating conjunctions.

There are numerous subordinating conjunctions for different types of information. Some of the most common include “because,” “although,” “since,” “unless,” “while,” “before,” “when,” “after,” “whereas,” and “as.”

Subordinating conjunctions are placed at the beginning of a dependent clause. If the dependent clause comes at the start of the sentence, it should be followed by a comma. The comma is generally omitted if the dependent clause is at the end of the sentence, although a comma may be added for emphasis or clarity.

Subordinating conjunctions examples
We parked the car when we arrived.
Since losing his job, he has become more frugal.
I recommend reserving a table because that restaurant is usually busy.

Sentence types

Adding independent or dependent clauses to an independent clause results in different sentence types. There are four sentence types in English, each referring to a different structure: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.

Sentence type

Structure

Examples

Simple sentence Independent clause

Be careful.

The road is closed.

Compound sentence

Independent clause +
independent clause

We called ahead to reserve, but the restaurant was already full.

Whey is a byproduct of cheesemaking, and it has many uses.

Complex sentence

Independent clause +
dependent clause(s)

Even though he warned me about the traffic, I left late, which meant I was caught for several hours on the highway.

According to research, music enhances memory.

Compound-complex sentence

At least two independent clauses +
dependent clause(s)

I visited a few beaches, which were beautiful, but the water was too rough for swimming.

Although we hadn’t met before, I recognized her name from the conference, so I decided to introduce myself.

Note
Varying sentence structures is a good practice for strong writing. However, while it is possible to include many clauses within a sentence, including too many independent or dependent clauses may result in a sentence that is difficult to read.

The QuillBot Grammar Checker can help you ensure your sentences are not overly complicated.

Connecting two independent clauses

Independent clauses can be connected with a comma or a semicolon when their ideas have some kind of relationship.

Using commas

Two independent clauses can be connected with coordinating conjunctions to form compound and compound-complex sentences. When connecting independent clauses, the coordinating conjunction should be preceded by a comma.

There are seven coordinating conjunctions that fulfill this function: “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.”

Independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction examples
She loves chocolate cake, so she bakes a cake once a week.
Paul wants to adopt a puppy, but his apartment is too small.
They are happy to go first, or they can wait longer.

Using semicolons

Semicolons can be used to link two independent clauses together. Semicolons should be used when the clauses are closely related in terms of idea or content. There are a couple of ways semicolons can be used to link independent clauses.

First, the two independent clauses can simply be next to each other. In this case, the second independent clause immediately follows the first, with the semicolon used in the same way as a period.

In addition, conjunctive adverbs, also called subordinating adverbs, can be used after a semicolon. These adverbs add nuance to the relationship between the two independent clauses and serve as a transition between them.

Common conjunctive adverbs include “first,” “however,” “nonetheless,” “regardless,” “furthermore,” “then,” “in contrast,” “thus,” and “therefore.” When using a conjunctive adverb immediately after a semicolon, the adverb must be followed by a comma.

Independent clauses connected by a semicolon examples
The rain lasted all night; the streets were still wet in the morning.
First, we’ll stop at the market; then, we can have lunch.

Note
If two independent clauses are not closely related to each other, it likely makes more sense to split the clauses into two separate sentences.

We arrived late, and the food was delicious.
We arrived late; the food was delicious.
We arrived late. The food was delicious.

Common mistakes to avoid

Independent clauses take many different shapes, and mistakes can happen when joining clauses together. Common mistakes include:

Sentence fragments

Sentence fragments are clauses that do not have a main subject and verb and that do not express a complete thought.

Sentence fragment examples
Before she saw the doctor.
Maria felt anxious before she saw the doctor.

Run-on sentences

Run-on sentences happen when two independent clauses are not joined together with the appropriate punctuation.

Run-on sentence examples
Tofu is delicious it contains protein.
Tofu is delicious, and it contains protein.
Tofu is delicious; what’s more, it contains protein.

Comma splices

A comma splice occurs when a comma is incorrectly placed between two independent clauses without the inclusion of a coordinating conjunction.

Comma splice examples
Cacao trees are very delicate, they are damaged easily.
Cacao trees are very delicate, and they are damaged easily.

Incorrect punctuation

Incorrect placement of punctuation to join dependent clauses with independent clauses is another common error.

Commas should be placed at the end of a dependent clause when it occurs at the start of a sentence, but commas are generally unnecessary when the dependent clause follows the independent clause.

Complex sentence punctuation examples
Although I usually drink coffee tea is best on a cold day.
Although, I usually drink coffee tea is best on a cold day.
Although I usually drink coffee, tea is best on a cold day.

The director was in a rush, because the meeting ran over.
The director was in a rush because the meeting ran over.

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


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Frequently asked questions about independent clause

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

An independent clause has a subject and a verb and can stand on its own as a complete sentence (e.g., “Puppies are playful”).

A dependent clause must be joined with an independent clause because it does not express a complete thought (e.g., “Puppies are playful because they have a lot of energy”).

Dependent clauses are marked by the use of subordinating conjunctions (e.g., “because,” “although,” “while”).

How are independent clauses linked to other clauses?

Independent clauses can be joined together using a semicolon (e.g., “I love my puppy Coco; she is so much fun”) or a comma and coordinating conjunction (e.g., “I wish I could play with Coco all day, but I have to work”).

Independent clauses can also be joined with dependent clauses to form complex and compound-complex sentences.

When should I use a semicolon to link independent clauses?

Semicolons are a useful way of joining together two independent clauses that are closely related (e.g., “Please take your shoes off; I’ve just mopped the floor”).

You can also use conjunctive adverbs to express the relationship between the clauses, which give insight into how your ideas are connected (e.g., “The experiment yielded unexpected results; moreover, it led to a reevaluation of our hypothesis”).

Semicolons add nuance and sophistication to your writing, but they should not be overused as this can make them less effective in helping information stand out.

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Alexandra Rongione

Alexandra has a master’s degree in literature and cultural studies. She has taught English as a foreign language for a range of levels and ages and has also worked as a literacy tutor.

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