Intro to Embedded Clauses

Complex Sentences are made up of a main clause and one or more embedded clauses. Modifier Clauses are one category of Embedded Clauses. In order to best understand this grammar series, here's what you need to know about Embedded Clauses.

We use embedded clauses to include additional (sometimes essential) information to a main clause. The result is a complex sentence.

Complex sentences have a main clause which plays host to one or more additional clauses.  These are often called dependent clauses or subordinate clauses, but the first of those terms can be a little misleading, and the term embedded clauses highlights the fact that they reside within the main clause.

Embedded clauses not only fit somewhere inside the main clause; they also fill a particular role within the main clause; they act as a part of speech, either that of a noun phrase or that of a modifier.

  • Noun-like embedded clauses are called Content Clauses.
  • Modifier clauses come in the form of Relative Clauses and Adverbial Clauses.

Content Clauses

  • act like noun phrases (always)
  • connect to the main clause through cruxes
  • can be integral to the structure of the sentence
  • are typically essential to meaning of the sentence

Relative Clauses

  • act like adjectives, usually
  • connect to the main clause through relative linkers
  • are not integral to the structure of the sentence
  • may or may not be essential to meaning of the sentence

Adverbial Clauses

  • act like adverbs, usually
  • connect to the main clause through conjunctions
  • are not integral to the structure of the sentence
  • may or may not be essential to meaning of the sentence

Relative Clauses are sometimes referred to as ‘adjective clauses’ because they typically modify noun phrases, although they do on occasion modify verb phrases.  Similarly, ‘Adverbial Clauses’ is a bit of a misnomer because they sometimes modify noun phrases (making them more adjectival than adverbial).  What defines these two types of modifier clauses is not the part of speech they embody, but the type of connector they have and the purpose they fulfill within the sentence.

Relative Clauses

Unlike most connectors, Relative Linkers serve multiple roles: they act as pronouns to refer back to an element of the main clause, and they act as pronouns, pro-adverbs, or determiners to represent/reference that same element in the embedded clause.

Because of this common element (called ‘star’ or ‘the shared noun’), these embedded clauses can only be interpreted based on their relation to the main clause, which is why they are called ‘Relative Clauses’.

Adverbial Clauses

The connectors for Adverbial Clauses are called subordinating conjunctions, and they are pretty straightforward.  In fact, they have a lot in common with (and overlap with) prepositions.

Similarly, Adverbial Clauses have a lot in common with Prepositional Phrases.  In fact, the only real difference is that Adverbial Clauses are built around a subject and a verb (as all clauses are), while Prepositional Phrases are not.

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Relative Clauses

For more details about how Relative Clauses work, check out the Bonus Notes and other info on the Relative Clauses page.
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Adverbial Clauses

Though these clauses are referred to as 'adverbs', they can modify just about anything. They are very similar to prepositional phrases, except that they include both a subject and a verb.
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