Subordinate Clause

1. What is a Subordinate Clause?

A subordinate clause or dependent clause is a clause that can’t exist as a sentence on its own. Like all clauses, it has a subject and a predicate, but it doesn’t share a complete thought. A subordinate clause only gives extra information and is “dependent” on other words to make a full sentence.


2. Examples of Subordinate Clauses

A subordinate clause makes a sentence more detailed. Here are some examples:

  • After the dog ran This clause answers the question “when?”
  • Because he ate popcorn This clause answers the question “why?”
  • Whoever is watching the dog This clause represents a person
  • The dog that eats popcorn This clause answers the question “which dog?”


3. Parts of Subordinate Clauses

Subordinate clauses are introduced by subordinate conjunctions and relative pronouns.

a. Subordinate conjunctions

Subordinate conjunctions help the transition between two parts of a sentence with words expressing things like place and time.

Here are some of the most common subordinate conjunctions:

  • After
  • As
  • As long as
  • Although
  • Because
  • Before
  • Even if
  • Even though
  • If
  • Now
  • Now that
  • Once
  • Since
  • Than
  • Though
  • Unless
  • Until
  • When
  • Whenever
  • Whereas
  • Wherever
  • Whether
  • While
  • Whoever

b. Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns are words like which, whichever, whatever, that, who, whoever, and whose. They introduce a dependent clause. They are called “relative” because they are related to the topic of the sentence. For example, “the person who” or “whoever eats;” or “the house that” or “whichever house.”


4. Types of Subordinate Clauses

A subordinate clause can work as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb in a sentence. So, there are three types of dependent clauses: noun clauses, adjective clauses, and adverb clauses. Remember, none of them can be complete sentences on their own!

a. Noun Clause

A noun clause is a group of words that acts as a noun in a sentence. They begin with relative pronouns like “how,” “which,” “who,” or “what,” combined with a subject and predicate. For example:

The dog can eat what he wants.

Here, “what he wants” stands as a noun for what the dog can eat. It’s a noun clause because it has a subject (he) and a predicate (wants). Here’s another:

Whoever gave the dog popcorn is in trouble!

“Whoever gave the dog popcorn” is the noun in the sentence, meaning the person who gave the dog popcorn.

To be sure of the noun clause in a sentence, you can switch it with a single noun and the sentence will still make sense, like this:

The dog can eat popcorn.

Sally is in trouble!

b. Adjective Clause

An adjective is a descriptive word. Adjective clauses are groups of words that act as an adjective in a sentence. They have a pronoun (who, that, which) or an adverb (what, where, why) and a verb; or, a pronoun or an adverb that serves as subject and a verb. They should answer questions like “what kind?” or “which one?” and follow one of two patterns: Pronoun/adverb + subject + verb, or pronoun/adverb as subject + verb.

For example:

Whichever flavor of popcorn you have

Whichever (pronoun) + flavor (subject) + have (verb) is an adjective clause that describes the popcorn. As you can see, it’s not a full sentence.

The dog is the one who ate the popcorn.

“Who” (pronoun acting as subject) + “ate” (verb) is an adjective clause that describes the dog.

c. Adverb clause

An adverb clause is a group of words that work as an adverb in a sentence, answering questions asking “where?”, “when,” “how?” and “why?” They begin with a subordinate conjuction.

The dog ran until he got to the county fair.

This sentence answers the question “how long did the dog run?” with the adverb clause “until he got to the county fair.”

After the dog arrived he ate popcorn.

With the adverb clause “after the dog arrived,” this sentence answers, “when did the dog eat popcorn?”


5. How to Write a Subordinate Clause and Avoid Mistakes

As you’re learning how to write a subordinate clause, it’s important to review the things that it always needs:

  • A subject
  • A verb
  • A subordinate conjunction or relative adverb

A subordinate clause can be at the beginning of a sentence or the end of a sentence, so long as it is paired with an independent clause. That’s because, as mentioned, it only adds extra details to sentence. So, start with an independent clause:

The dog ate.

Next, add some extra details—remember: we need to include another subject and verb to make a subordinate clause.

The dog ate whatever he wanted to.

This full sentence uses the noun clause “whatever he wanted to.” It begins with a subordinate conjunction, followed by a subject (he) and a verb (wanted). It needs the first part of the sentence to be complete.

To avoid mistakes with subordinate clauses, always remember: a subordinate clause is never a full sentence on its own. Therefore, the most common mistake you can make is a fragment sentence (an incomplete sentence). That’s because a subordinate clause doesn’t express a complete thought. For example:

Whoever gave the dog popcorn. This is a fragment sentence.

Though it has a subject (whoever) and a verb (gave), it isn’t complete. It doesn’t express a whole thought, and leaves the question, “what happened to whoever gave the dog popcorn?” So, we need to add information:

Whoever gave the dog popcorn is in trouble! This is a complete sentence.


Test your Knowledge

Select the subordinate clause in this sentence:

After you give him popcorn my dog will like you.




The clause from the sentence in Question 1 answers the question “when will the dog like me?” So this part is a/an?




Select the subordinate clause in this sentence:

My dog will eat whatever you give him.




The clause from the sentence in Question 3 represents what thing the dog will eat. So, it is a/an:




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