Clauses

Cinema posters being placed on a wall by workmen featuring an example of a major clause and a subordinate clause.

A main clause contains a verb and has one main idea. It can form a complete sentence. This is called a main clause.

Examples:

  • the cat mewed
  • his car broke down at the station
  • the girl laughed loudly

Other clauses do not have verbs and therefore do not function as independent sentences. These are subordinate clauses and add extra information to a sentence. A sentence that includes both a main and a subordinate clause is known as a complex sentence. For example:

  • the cat, which was balanced on the fence, mewed
  • his car, described by his girlfriend as a ‘rust-bucket’, broke down at the station
  • the girl, whose name he could never remember, laughed loudly

Notice how the subordinate clause makes no sense on its own. It depends on the main clause to make sense.

Also notice that the subordinate clause is separated by commas.

Question

Identify the main and subordinate clauses in the following sentences:

The cat ate the food, which had been left for it.

Bex took a step towards the cliff, even though it scared her.

Johnston, who was only fifteen years old, was already a brilliant footballer.

The parts in bold are main clauses and the parts in plain text are subordinate clauses:

The cat ate the food, which had been left for it.

Bex took a step towards the cliff, even though it scared her.

Johnston, who was only fifteen years old, was already a brilliant footballer.

Notice that subordinate clauses can also be ‘embedded’ within a major clause.