Clauses & Complex Sentences



Notes on the Intro to Clauses video

watch the Intro to Clauses video

  • More strictly speaking, a clause is composed of a subject and a predicate, where the 'predicate' contains the verb string (the main verb, all its auxiliary verbs, and linked adverbs) and may or may not include object phrases. Most student's won't remember the term 'predicate', or even its concept, so saying that the foundation of a clause is a subject plus a verb is a more effective way to communicate what clauses are. (By the way, half-way through we say that every word/phrase should connect back to either the subject or the verb; consider direct object and indirect object as connecting back to the verb.)

  • We don't define the different parts of speech in the video. If your students don't know them, you'll have to teach those separately

  • A sentence that is missing a subject or a verb or both is called a sentence fragment.

    • Be careful, as verbals are not the same as verbs; they are in the for of verbs, but act as other parts of speech. A sentence that includes a verbal but no main verb is still a fragment (for example, "The reason for his absence being his recent illness" is a fragment, since 'being' is not the proper form of a verb).

    • It's not necessarily wrong to use fragments; in fact, we use them frequently in short responses or to clarify a previous statement, for instance. Some writers of stories will use fragments on occasion to stress an important point. However, student should know not to use fragments for an formal essays, reports, speeches, interviews, etc.

  • By "subject-verb paired together", we mean that the subject and verb need to be in agreement with each other. All that agreement means is that:

    • in the Present Simple tense, we use '-s' (or '-es') at the end of a verb if the subject is 3rd-person singular (check out our 1 Red 'S' rule);

    • the use of 'to be' - either as the main verb in the present or past simple tenses, or as the helping verb of continuous (but non-perfect) tenses - should match the subject. For any other verb and any other tense, agreement is a non-issue.

  • A clause only has one subject. You can have multiple nouns within that subject, but they would not be different subjects. The verb phrase that follows would correspond to the subject as a whole, which may or may not mean all the nouns individually, but at the very least there is no distinction between the nouns of the subject phrase in terms of the actions they take or the states they have.

  • In contrast, a clause can have multiple verb strings, as different verbs may have different objects.

  • When we say 'subject', we include any determiners (such as articles) along with the noun.

  • The difference in meaning between "He wants burgers and fries," and "He wants burgers, and he wants fries," is minimal, if anything. However, the first is a single clause, while the second sentence contains two clauses.

  • Here's how to connect clauses in a compound sentence (place all these between the two clauses):

    • use both a comma and a conjunction; if you have one, you need the other

    • use a semicolon if the second clause is a clarification or extension of the first clause

    • use a colon if the second clause is a logical result of the first, or if the first is a categorization and the second is more specific

  • For complex sentences, we need a linker/conjunction at the beginning of one of the clauses; this clause is referred to as the dependent clause, while the one without the conjunction is the independent clause. When the dependent clause comes second, the conjunction is between the two clauses (and acts to separate them a bit). However, when dependent clause comes first, the linker is at the beginning of the sentence, which means we have no words to separate the two clauses; this is why we use a comma in that place (whereas the comma is not necessary if the linker is between the two clauses.

  • I like to think of conjunctions/linkers as the connection between two clauses. However, most other resources will tell you that the conjunctions are actually a part of the dependent clause.

  • When we talk about complex sentences in the video, keep in mind that the examples are just some of the possible structures. For instance, relative clauses usually take the place of adjectives, but they can also be adverbial.

  • A sentence can have any number of clauses, linked by any combination to be compound or complex. If you have one clause inside another, followed by a third clause, that would be compound-complex (or 'complex-compound').

  • The term 'run-on' is a bit misleading because it seems like they are long. Indeed, many run-ons are long sentences. However, it's possible to have a very short run-on sentence (e.g. "I'm not hungry I just ate.") The fault of run-ons is that they have no conjunctions (linkers).

  • Some linguists consider comma-splicing as one way to do a run-on, while others consider it its own thing. Comma splicing is using only a comma (not a comma followed by a conjunction) between two clauses.

  • All the benefits of using clauses properly and all the problems with not understanding clauses (which we enumerate in the last two minutes of the video) will be covered more in depth in a book we hope to write, and possibly in future videos.


Notes on the Complex Sentences video

  • The different types of clauses we cover are commonly regarded as ‘Dependent Clauses’ or ‘Subordinate Clauses’, although some grammarians would debate the definitions of those terms. Conversely, main clauses are often called ‘Independent Clauses’.

  • Relative Clauses are sometimes referred to as Adjectival Clauses

  • The linkers for the different types of clauses have names. We didn’t use the official names because most of those terms wouldn’t be used in any other context, so why confuse students with something they don’t need to remember?

    • ‘Subordinate Conjunctions’ (what we call ‘prepositional conjunctions’) are used for Adverbial Clauses.

    • ‘Relativizers’ are used for Relative Clauses.

    • ‘Complementizers’ are used for Content Clauses.

  • Most Adverbial Clauses are non-essential. However, the occasional Adverbial Clause is essential - in other words, if you omit the clause, the sentence doesn’t quite make sense.

  • Content Clauses almost always come after the entirety of the main clause. Relative Clauses almost always come immediately after the key word (the word that the have in common) within the main clause. Adverbial Clauses have a bit more flexibility in terms of where they are attached, but typically they come before or after the main clause.

Notes on the Relative Clauses video

watch the Relative Clauses video

  • For appositive (non-defining) clauses, which we featured in this video, we generally use commas to separate the clauses. You can also use dashes or parentheses.

  • Defining clauses (aka ‘restrictive’ clauses) are relative clauses that give essential information to their connected main clause(s), which wouldn't make much sense without the relative clauses. With defining clauses, we don't use commas. Also, we can use 'that' to replace any of the relative pronouns.

  • Use 'whose' for possession, of people as well as of things (while we group is with the relative pronouns, it's technically not a pronoun, but a determiner; some books call it an adjective).

  • For the record, 'where' and 'when' are technically considered relative adverbs in certain cases.

  • The relative pronoun chosen should fit the relative clause.

    • If [star] is possessive in the relative clause but not in the main clause, use 'whose'

    • If [star] - say, building - is a place in one clause but a thing in the other clause, choose the pronoun based on how [star] was used in the relative clause.

    • If [star] is a person and was the object of the relative, use 'whom' instead of 'who'

  • Relative pronouns, relative determiners, and relative adverbs (and ‘relative adjectives’ according to some) are all classified as ‘relativizers’, although that term is rarely used in the classroom. The term that you use instead may vary from one book or curriculum to the next.

  • When a relative clause originally had a preposition before [star]:

    • that preposition should be moved to before the pronouns 'which' and 'who' (and 'whose' and 'whom')

    • the preposition is dropped when using the pronouns 'where' or 'when' (and 'that')

  • If you create a sentence with a relative clause and it doesn't sound right, you probably need to swap which clause is relative. This often happens when the main verb of a clause is to be. So as a general rule, if you have one clause with to be as the main verb, it's probably better if that's the main clause (and the relative clause can be one with a different main verb).

  • Placing a relative clause in the wrong place can result in a misplaced modifier, which could be humorous, but usually doesn't mean what you want it to mean.

  • 'Reduced relatives' are phrases that modify the [star] noun the same way relative clauses do, except trimmed down to just a word or three. We typically need a participle adjective to do this. Suppose we had the sentence "Protesters crowded the street with signs held high." The version of this with the full relative clause would be "...with signs that were held high". We simply take out the relative pronoun ('that') and to be ('were') so that the adjective ('held') is next to the noun it modifies ('signs'). The effect is the same either way, but the reduced relative is just a bit quicker and easier to say than the full relative clause.


Related Printouts

  • Coordinating Conjunctions (letter) (A4)

  • steps to forming Relative Clauses (letter) (A4)


Next in the Series

Advanced Relative Clauses

  • relative pronoun 'whom' and relative adjective 'whose'

  • pronouns changing based on context (see 'building' example above)

  • prepositions before pronouns / dropped prepositions

  • 'defining' clauses / 'that' / commas