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Definition A clause is a group of related words containing a subject and a verb A clause can be usefully distinguished from a phrase, which is a group of related words that does not contain a subject-verb relationship, such as "in the morning" or "running down the street" or "having grown used to this harassment.
Words We Use to Talk about Clauses Learning the various terms used to define and classify clauses can be a vocabulary lesson in itself. This digital handout categorizes clauses into independent and dependent clauses. This simply means that some clauses can stand by themselves, as separate sentences, and some can't.
Another term for dependent clause is subordinate clause: The subordinate clause is created by a subordinating conjunction or dependent word. An independent clause, "She is older than her brother" which could be its own sentencecan be turned into a dependent or subordinate clause when the same group of words begins with a dependent word or a subordinating conjunction in this case: The words essential and nonessential are sometimes used and mean the same thing as restrictive and nonrestrictive, respectively.
British grammarians will make this same distinction by referring to clauses with the terms defining and non-defining. A nonrestrictive clause is not essential to the meaning of the sentence; it can be removed from the sentence without changing its basic meaning.
Nonrestrictive clauses are often set apart from the rest of the sentence by a comma or a pair of commas if it's in the middle of a sentence.
Professor Villa, who used to be a secretary for the President, can type words a minute.
Review the Notorious Confusables section on the difference between That and Which for additional clarification on the distinction between restrictive and nonrestrictive.
Relative clauses are dependent clauses introduced by a Relative Pronoun that, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose, and of which. Relative clauses can be either restrictive or nonrestrictive. Review the section on Comma Usage for additional help in determining whether relative clauses are restrictive or nonrestrictive parenthetical or not and whether commas should be used to set them off from the rest of the sentence.
In a relative clause, the relative pronoun is the subject of the verb remember that all clauses contain a subject-verb relationship and refers to relates to something preceding the clause.
Giuseppe said that the plantar wart, which had been bothering him for years, had to be removed. Some relative clauses will refer to more than a single word in the preceding text; they can modify an entire clause or even a series of clauses.
Charlie didn't get the job in administration, which really surprised his friends. Charlie didn't get the job in administration, and he didn't even apply for the Dean's position, which really surprised his friends.
A relative clause that refers to or modifies entire clauses in this manner is called a sentential clause. Sometimes the "which" of a sentential clause will get tucked into the clause as the determiner of a noun: Charlie might very well take a job as headmaster, in which case the school might as well close down.
Finally, everybody's favorite clause is the Santa Clause, which needs no further definition: Independent Clauses Independent Clauses could stand by themselves as discrete sentences, except that when they do stand by themselves, separated from other clauses, they're normally referred to simply as sentences, not clauses.
The ability to recognize a clause and to know when a clause is capable of acting as an independent unit is essential to correct writing and is especially helpful in avoiding sentence fragments and run-on sentences. Needless to say, it is important to learn how to combine independent clauses into larger units of thought.
In the following sentence, for example, Bob didn't mean to do it, but he did it anyway. If the word "but" is missing from this sentence, the sentence would be called a comma splice:I appreciate that writing your college essay in the summer is a major buzz kill, but if you start one now, you'll thank me in the fall when it's application crunchtime.
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