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GEN 100

Writing Workshop

Dependent Clauses

There are three types of dependent clauses:

  1. Adverbial Clause: the "normal" dependent clause; modifies independent clauses, usually answering questions including when, where, why, and how?
  2. Relative (Adjective) Clause: follows and modifies a noun phrase; is usually introduced with relative pronouns, esp. who, that, or which.
  3. Nominal (Noun) Clause: the entire clause acts as a noun; is introduced by if, that, or a wh-word such as what or why.


Adverbial clauses are introduced by subordinating conjunctions such as because, although, and when. It can occur before, in the middle of, or after a main clause.

Because they disagreed, the researchers made little progress.
The researchers, because they disagreed, made little progress.
The researchers made little progress because they disagreed.

If the clause appears before or in the middle, it is set off by commas; at the end of the sentence, it usually takes no comma.

Adjective (Relative)

Relative clauses modify noun phrases. One requirement is that the relative clause must share the same noun as the main clause:

The shop sells Apple computers.
The shop is not owned by Apple.

The modifying sentence is placed after the noun being modified:

The shop [The shop is not owned by Apple] sells Apple computers.

The "pronomial reflex" (the identical noun in both clauses) is replaced with a relative pronoun:

The shop [which is not owned by Apple] sells Apple computers.

The above example is what happens when the identical noun phrase is in the same position (subject) of both sentences. However, the noun being modified and the pronomial reflex can appear in any positions.

The shop sells Apple computers.
My friend owns the shop.

In this case, the reflex is in the object position:

The shop [My friend owns the shop] sells Apple computers.

As you can see, the reflex is not at the beginning of the relative clause:

The shop [My friend owns which] sells Apple computers.

One more step must be taken: the relative pronoun must be "forwarded":

The shop [which my friend owns] sells Apple computers.

In a case where the pronomial reflex is the object of a preposition, the preposition must also be forwarded along with the relative pronoun:

The shop sells Apple computers.
My friend works in the shop.

The shop [My friend works in the shop] sells Apple computers.

The shop [My friend works in which] sells Apple computers.
The shop [in which my friend works] sells Apple computers.

Note that there are three cases in which it is possible to delete the relative pronoun.

Case #1: when (a) the relative pronoun is not in the subject position, and (b) the relative clause is essential:

The house [which] my father bought is very old.

Case #2: the relative pronoun is followed by "be"; this may change the relative clause into an appositive.

Students [who are] not in class on Friday will miss the test.
Frank, [who is a doctor, hates spinach.

Case #3: the relative pronoun's verb is in the present progressive or passive form; this may change the clause into a participial phrase:

Students [who are] trying to pass the test should study harder.
Frank, [who was] given an extra chance to pass the test , studied even harder.

Noun (Nominal)

Nominal clauses have these features:

  1. Like noun phrases, they act as nouns;
  2. They can be replaced with pronouns;
  3. They can take the place of subjects or objects;
  4. They can begin with if, whether, that, or the fact that;
  5. They can also begin with wh- words, such as what, when, why, etc.

Examples of nominal clauses in various noun positions:

What he said is important.   (subject position)
I heard what he said.   (direct object position)
I gave what he said serious consideration.   (indirect object position)
We talked about what he said.   (object of the preposition position)
He is exactly what he said.   (predicate noun position)

Examples using other subordinators:

Who we make our friends often shows the kind of people we are.
When she arrives is up to her.
The fact that students ask questions shows that they are listening.
I don't know why he keeps bothering me.
Do you know if it will rain tomorrow?
Do you know that Japan is an archipelago?

I would note that if, whether, and that are not usually used to begin nominal clauses in the subject position, though they can be used that way.

Sometimes, the word that can be omitted, but not other introductory words:

She says [that] she will arrive tomorrow.
Do you know [if] she will arrive tomorrow?

In the second example above, if you delete the word "if," the sentence will seem to be "Do you know [that] she will arrive tomorrow?"