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Eng 430
Introduction to Clauses
A finite clause is a group of words which contains a finite verb phrase and one or more other clause elements
(subject, object, indirect object, subject complement, adverbial). There are also nonfinite clauses, but at this
point, we are concerned about clauses with finite verbs. Clauses always have a verb phrase.
There are two types of clauses: dependent and independent. An independent clause is exactly the same as a
sentence. It will have a subject, a verb, and usually some sort of predication.
I went to the store.
A dependent clause is a clause which has been made dependent, or unable to stand on its own as a complete
sentence, at least in more formal varieties of written English. Usually, clauses are made dependent through the
use of subordinators. You have a list of subordinators on the handout called English Conjuncts. The
subordinators are the middle and right hand columns.
*After I went to the store.
I made the original sentence dependent by putting a subordinator at the beginning. This needs to be attached to an
independent clause in order to be a correct English sentence.
After I went to the store, I went home.
The shortest English sentence is the command. It often consists of only one word.
Examples: Stop! Go!
Most grammar books that state the subject of commands is understood you.
Verbs and English Clause Patterns
(You) Put that down!
English clauses have two parts: the subject and the predicate. The predicate includes the verb and the clause
ending (object(s), subject complement, adverbial). The important thing to remember is that the verb controls the
clause ending. That is why you need to understand the difference between an action verb and a linking verb.
A clause with a linking verb may take a subject complement. A subject complement is a noun or adjective which
describes or renames the subject.
She is tall. ‘Is’ is a linking verb. ‘Tall’ describes the subject.
Her name is Sally. Again, ‘is’ is a linking verb. Sally renames the subject.
A clause with an action verb may or may not take a direct object. It depends on whether or not the action verb is
transitive or intransitive. A transitive verb is a verb that will take a direct object.
I have seen ESL students write this kind of sentence:
* The car died my dog. What is wrong with this sentence? To a native English speaker, it is obvious that it
should be ‘The car killed my dog.’ What is the difference between ‘die’ and kill’? Die is intransitive, while
‘kill’ is transitive. ‘Kill’ will take the direct object, in this case ‘my dog.’ See the handout called Predicates for
directions on how to identify direct objects and subject complements.
Examples: My son broke the car window.
We ate the pie.
Of course, most sentences are more complex than this, so another important thing to remember is that many
sentences contain more than one clause. Verb phrases tell you when you have encountered another clause,
because all clauses function around verb phrases. Each clause in a sentence will have its own predication.
After I went to the store, I bought a milkshake.
The sentence above contains two clauses. The first clause is dependent; the second clause is independent. ‘Went’
is the verb of the first clause. ‘Went’ is not a transitive verb. This sentence ends in a prepositional phrase
functioning as an adverbial: to the store ‘Bought’ is the verb of the second clause. ‘Bought’ is a transitive verb.
This clause ends with a direct object: a milkshake.
Elements of Clauses
Sentences can be divided into slots: subject, object, subject complement, etc. Usually, slots have to be filled by
phrases, such as noun phrases, verb phrases adverb phrases, etc. ( See the handout Clause Elements and The
Forms They Take and The Abbreviations for Both). It is always the entire noun phrase, etc, which fills the slot,
not part of it.
The boy I went to school with is home from college.
The subject of this sentence is ‘The boy I went to school with.’ People are often tempted to think the subject is
just boy, but it isn’t. This is why it was important for you to learn to identify the complete noun phrase, not just
individual nouns.
Another Example:
That mood into which a friend brings us is his dominion over us.
This is the subject: That mood into which a friend brings us.
This is the subject complement: his dominion over us