Types of Clauses in English Grammar

What is a clause?

A clause is a part of a sentence.

A clause is a group of words that has subject and predicate. Every complete sentence is made up of at least one or more clause(s). Following are examples of clauses.

John bought a new car. (One sentence, one clause)
John bought a new car, but he is using his old car. (One sentence, two clauses)

Types of Clauses

Every clause has at least a subject and a verb. Clauses have some characteristics that help to distinguish one type of clause from another. Types of clauses are:

  1. Independent Clauses (Main Clause)
  2. Dependent Clauses (Subordinate Clause)
  3. Relative Clauses (Adjective Clause)
  4. Noun Clauses

Independent Clauses (Main Clause)

An independent (or main clause) is a complete sentence. It contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought in context and meaning. It expresses a complete thought.

Independent clause structure: Subject + Verb = Complete Thought.

For example, She walked. (This sentence contains only two words but it is still complete because it has subject and predicate)

Main clauses can be joined by a coordinating conjunction to form complex or compound sentences.


and but for
nor or yet

For example: He bought a new car but he is still using an old one. “but” is used to combine two independent clauses.

Dependent Clauses (Subordinate Clause)

A dependent clause (or subordinate clause) is part of a sentence; it contains a subject and verb but does not convey the complete sense. They can make sense on their own, but, they are dependent on the rest of the sentence for context and meaning. A dependent clause is joined to an independent clause to form a complex sentence. It often starts with a subordinating conjunction.


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

Dependent clause structure: Subordinate Conjunction + Subject + Verb = Incomplete Thought.

Examples: Whenever I go to the superstore, I buy chips.

Relative Clauses (Adjective Clause)

A relative clause starts with the relative pronoun at the start of the clause like who, which, whose etc. To make a distinction between an antecedent that is a human “who(m)” and an antecedent which is a non-human “which”. Following will make it clear further.

Who(m) is used when an antecedent is a person.
That is used to refer to either a person or thing.
Which is used to refer to anything except a person.

(It is noteworthy that whom is not used much in spoken English.)

Relative Clauses Examples 

  • I met my friends yesterday. The friend, who had curly hair, was very intelligent.
  • The race was the one that I lost.


Restrictive relative clauses are sometimes called defining relative clauses or identifying relative clauses. Similarly, non-restrictive relative clauses are called non-defining or non-identifying relative clauses and is preceded by a pause in speech or a comma in writing.

Restrictive Clause Example:

The programmer who develops web applications will make a large profit.

Non-Restrictive Clause Example:

The programmer, who develops web applications, will make a large profit.


Human Nonhuman


Subject who, that which
Object who, whom, that which
After preposition whom which
Possessive whose, of whom whose, of which


which, that who which
which, that who, whom which
which whom which
whose, of which whose, of whom whose, of which

Noun Clauses

Noun Clauses: It is a dependent clause that works as a noun. Noun clauses can act as a subject, direct or indirect objects or predicate nominatives. Some examples are as under:-

  • Tell me who left his book on the table. (direct object)
  • I shall tell whoever will listen to my interesting story. (indirect object)
  • Whoever is the last one to leave turns off the lights. (subject)
  • The boy with the curled hair is who I want on my team. (predicate nominative)

Noun clauses often begin with pronouns or other words. That particular word usually has a grammatical function in the sentence.

  1. Relative pronouns: that, what, who, which, whom, whose
  2. Indefinite relative pronouns: whoever, whomever, whatever, whichever, whether, if
  3. Interrogative adjective: what
  4. Interrogative adverb: how
  5. Interrogative pronoun: who
  6. Subordinating conjunctions: whenever, how, when, if, where, whether, why