Independent Clause

1. What is an Independent Clause?

An independent clause is a clause that can work alone as a complete sentence. It contains a subject and a predicate that together express a complete thought. An independent clause is also called a “main clause” because it contains a sentence’s main idea, and as the main part, it isn’t “dependent” on other clauses to make sense. But, a dependent clause relies on an independent clause to make a full sentence. That means that all sentences need an independent clause—no sentence can be complete without one!

 

2. Examples of Independent Clause

Here are some examples of independent clauses that you use every day. As you can see, they each have only one subject and one predicate.

  • My name is Lily.
  • I travel extensively.
  • I’m visiting China this summer.
  • We really love pandas.
  • Pandas eat bamboo!
  • Some pandas are really giant.

 

3. Parts of Independent Clauses

An independent clause only needs two main things to make sense on its own: a subject, and a predicate. But, independent clauses may also have modifiers and objects to make them more detailed.

a. Subject

A sentence’s subject is the thing that is “doing” the action. Often it’s just a single noun (a person, place, thing, or idea), but it can also be a gerund or a noun phrase that uses other modifiers. Here are some examples of subjects:

  • Lily studies.         Single noun subject
  • You work.         Single noun subject
  • Giant pandas chew.         Noun phrase subject
  • Traveling is fun.         Gerund subject

b. Predicate

A predicate is the word or phrase that expresses a sentence’s action. It may be just a single verb, or it may be a verb phrase (a verb with its related objects and/or modifiers). Here are some examples of predicates.

  • The panda chewed. Single verb = predicate
  • The panda chewed bamboo. Verb + object = predicate
  • The panda chewed slowly. Verb + modifier = predicate
  • The panda chewed bamboo slowly. Verb + object + modifier = predicate

c. Modifiers

Modifiers are adverbs and adjectives that “modify” another word by adding more details to it. In independent clauses, they paint a better picture of the subject or the predicate. Here are some examples of modifiers.

  • Chewing slowly
  • The giant, fluffy panda
  • Adventurous Lily
  • Travels extensively

d. Objects

An object is a thing in a sentence that receives the verb’s action. Many independent clauses will include objects to make ideas more complete. Here are some examples of objects:

  • Pandas eat bamboo.
  • They have black and white fur.
  • Lily traveled to China.
  • She loves pandas.

 

4. Ways to Use Independent Clauses

Independent clauses can be used as sentences on their own; but, we often combine them with other independent or dependent clauses to make longer, more interesting sentences.

a. On their Own

As you now know, an independent clause doesn’t need other clauses to be a sentence. So, one way we use them is on their own!

Simple Sentence

An independent clause standing on its own as a full sentence is a simple sentence. A simple sentence has only one subject and one predicate (just one independent clause)—that means only one person or thing doing one action. A simple sentence can be as short as two words but, it can be longer if it includes modifiers or objects. Here are some examples:

  • Pandas eat.
  • Pandas eat bamboo leaves.
  • They live in the forest.
  • Lily saw pandas in China.

Remember, by itself, an independent clause is a simple sentence, and vice versa!

b. With Other Clauses

Dependent clauses never express a complete thought on their own. So, to form a proper sentence, they always need to be paired with at least one independent clause. The two ways we do that are with complex sentences and compound-complex sentences. In the sections below, independent clauses are green.

Compound Sentence

A compound sentence combines two independent clauses into one sentence. We do this with either a conjunction (like and, but, so, etc), a conjunction and a comma, or a semicolon.

  • Lily saw pandas in China; they live in the forest.
  • Pandas eat bamboo leaves, but they don’t eat fruit.

Remember, when separated, the independent clauses in a compound sentence can be sentences on their own:

  • Lily saw pandas in China.
  • They live in the forest.
  • Pandas eat bamboo leaves.
  • They don’t eat fruit.
Complex Sentence

A complex sentence joins an independent clause with at least one dependent clause. That means it brings together a complete thought with an incomplete thought, like this:

  • When she visited China, Lily went to see the pandas.
  • Lily saw giant pandas while she was in China.

In both of these examples, the dependent clauses “when she visited China” and “while she was in China” are incomplete thoughts that can’t be full sentences. But, when put together with the independent clauses, they form proper complex sentences!

Compound-Complex Sentence

A compound-complex sentence has at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. That means it combines two complete thoughts with an incomplete thought, like this:

  • While she was traveling in China, Lily saw pandas, and they were amazing!

Here, you can see that the dependent clause “While she was traveling in China” is not a complete thought. But, by adding the two independent clauses that follow, we make it into a full sentence! Here’s another example:

  • If you go to China, you can see pandas in the forest and watch them eat bamboo.

 

5. How to Avoid Mistakes

Always remember: an independent clause has only one subject and one predicate (for instance, one person doing one thing) and makes sense on its own. If you remember those rules, it’s easy to recognize an independent clause. But, there are other mistakes that can easily occur with independent clauses, like run-on sentences and comma splices.

 a. Run-on Sentence

When you combine too many independent clauses without the right punctuation, you get a run-on sentence—it “runs on” for too long without pausing! So, when combining independent clauses with any other clause, you need to be sure to use commas, conjunctions, and semicolons. Take a look at these examples:

  • Pandas don’t like fruit they only eat bamboo so they live in bamboo forests.

This sentence is confusing—it’s hard to tell where one thought ends and the other begins. This is a run-on sentence! Let’s fix it:

  • Pandas don’t like fruit; they only eat bamboo, so they live in bamboo forests.

By adding a semicolon, a comma, and the conjunction “so,” this sentence is clear, and it’s easy to see where each clause is!

b. Comma Splice

If you combine independent clauses with a comma, but don’t use a proper conjunction, you get what’s called a comma splice. When combining independent clauses into a compound sentence, and you want to use a comma, you MUST include a conjunction. Otherwise, you should use a semicolon. Take a look at these examples:

  • Pandas are black and white, they are easy to spot.           INCORRECT
  • Pandas are black and white, so they are easy to spot.      Correct!
  • Pandas are black and white; they are easy to spot.          Correct!

Test your Knowledge

1.
TRUE or FALSE: Not all sentences have an independent clause.

a.

b.

2.
An independent clause always has ___ subject(s) and ___ predicate(s).

a.

b.

c.

d.

3.
TRUE or FALSE: An independent clause is a simple sentence, and vice versa.

a.

b.

4.
What’s wrong with the sentence below?

Monkeys eat bananas, they are easy for them to peel.

a.

b.

c.

d.

5.
Identify the independent clause in this sentence:

When I was 10 years old, I visited the rain forest.

a.

b.

c.

d.

6.
Identify the independent clauses in this sentence:

I went to the rain forest when I was 10 years old, and I saw wild monkeys there.

a.

b.

c.

d.

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