Subordinate Clauses‏‎ in English Grammar

Sentence Structure

Santa's Little HelpersA Subordinate Clause (aka Dependent Clause) is a clause that doesn’t make sense fully on its own and always needs an independent clause‏‎ to express a complete thought and make a complete sentence‏‎.

These, for example, are subordinate clauses:

* whenever I see her

* rather than take the bus

* even though she is very rich

* an asterisk at the beginning denotes and ungrammatical sentence or sequence

Standing on their own like this, they leave too many questions unanswered and we can’t really understand what the speaker is trying to say. However, when put with an independent clause they make sense:

I feel all warm inside + whenever I see her.

Rather than take the bus + why don’t you walk?

She never pays her fair share + even though she’s very rich.

Introducing Subordinate Clauses

Subordinate clauses can be introduced by a subordinating conjunction‏‎:

after, although, as, because, before, even if, even though, if, in order that, once, provided that, rather than, since, so that, than, that, though, unless, until, when, whenever, where, whereas, wherever, whether, while, why

or by a relative pronoun:

that, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whose, whomever, whomsoever

Form of Subordinate Clauses

As we said above, If you put either a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun in front of a clause you get an incomplete sentence:

* Even though the man smiled.

In other words, you need an independent clause to make sense of the whole thing. This can usually come either before or after the subordinate clause:

{independent clause} + {subordinate clause}

I walked away + even though the man smiled.

{subordinate clause} + {independent clause}

Even though the man smiled + I walked away.

Subordinate Clauses and TEFL

Is it worth going into the deep grammar of subordinate clauses with your TEFL class?

The answer is: probably not. Most students won’t need to know the details of how to form a subordinate clause and whether it’s introduced by a subordinate conjunction or relative pronoun.

Instead, it’s probably easier to wait until the situation arises. Suppose a student writes this, for example:

I left home early. I arrived at school late.

Just talk about an appropriate conjunction to join these two to make the ideas in them closer. There’s no need to explain what kind of clauses they are as long as the student understands how the conjunction actually joins them:

Although I left home early, I arrived at school late.

I arrived at school late even though I left home early.

And if a student writes a subordinate clause as though it were a full sentence like this:

While I’m waiting.

…then you just need to explain that when a word like while or but etc (i.e. a subordinating conjunction) is used you need two clauses together so either get rid of the conjunction or add another (appropriate) clause:

I’m waiting.

I’ll read the paper while I’m waiting.

Useful Links

Coordination‏‎ & Subordination in English Grammar – a general look at this idea in English grammar

Subordinating Conjunctions‏‎ in English Grammar – how to introduce subordinate clauses in a sentence

Relative Pronouns – how to introduce subordinate clauses in a sentence

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