Dependent Clauses: They Really Need You

by | Nov 19, 2015 | Writing Tips | 0 comments

Without you, a dependent clause would be out there in the world, lost and alone. Sentences would lack much-needed descriptions, and writing in general would suffer.

Fortunately, we have you, the content writers, who can spot dependent clauses and give them a home. Here is a quick refresher on what they are, what forms they take and how to improve your writing through their proper use.

What Are They?

Also known as a subordinate clause, a dependent clause does not express a complete thought and therefore cannot standalone. It does, however, have a subject and a clause (which distinguishes a clause from a phrase).

The dependent clauses are underlined in these sentences:


The teacher looked for the little boy who had worn smelly shoes to school.

I refuse to write anymore unless my children sleep.

We finally saw the plane, which had disappeared behind the clouds.

The quality of work depends on the content rather than how long it is.

None of the underlined sections could serve as standalone sentences, which indicates that they are dependent clauses.

The Dependent Clause That Like to Act

Spot the dependent clause in this sentence:

She typed the paper until her fingers started cramping.

The dependent clause here is “until her fingers started cramping.” It acts as an adverb that modifies the verb, “typed.”

Dependent clauses can dress up as adjectives, too, like this:

The paper that she handed in last week was really good.

“That she handed in last week” is the dependent clause modifying the noun, “paper.”

Not only will a dependent clause act as a noun, but it can also take on the role of playing the subject of a sentence:

What that woman wrote was really helpful.

“What that woman wrote” is a dependent noun clause and the subject of the sentence.

Let’s Get Complex

As illustrated above, dependent clauses that are used as an adverb or adjective are typically paired with an independent clause to form a complex sentence. To link the two, a sentence will often have either a relative pronoun or a subordinating conjunction. These cues can help you spot those dependent clauses.

Relative pronouns include: Who, whom, that, which, why, whose, what, where and how

Subordinating conjunctions include: If, even if, even though, as, although, after, though, unless, whether, while, until, since, so that, before and because.

Pretty Easy, Right?

Many writers use dependent clauses without even realizing it. If you leave one by itself, however, it will stick out as a nonsensical error during proofreading. Still have questions? Let us know in the comments section below!

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