So What Is a Dependent Clause, Anyway?

So What Is a Dependent Clause, Anyway?

These words act as clues to show whether a clause (an arrangement of words that includes a subject and verb) can stand alone as a sentence or not.

Subordinating Conjunctions









provided (that)


so that












Relative Pronouns






When one of these words begins a clause, that clause is not an independent sentence but is dependent on another clause. The meanings of these words suggest that something else must happen in order for the sentence to make sense.

Example: (IC stands for independent clause and DC stands for dependent clause)

            a) If I get a grant, I will be able to go to school full-time. (DC, IC)

            b) I will be able to go to school full-time if I get a grant. (IC DC)

            c) Teachers enjoy students whose attention is focused.  (IC DC)

Writers often try to use dependent clauses as if they were independent, which results in sentence fragments, as in this example:

Complete sentence:     1. Mark decided to major in psychology.

Fragment:                   2. Since human behavior has always fascinated him.

Example 1 is a complete simple sentence.

Example 2 is a fragment because it is a dependent clause beginning with the word since.  Notice that if the word since were not there, it would be a complete sentence.


Here are some ways to correct this fragment:


  3. Mark decided to major in psychology since human behavior has always fascinated him.

  4. Mark decided to major in psychology.  Human behavior has always fascinated him.

In sentence 3, the fragment has been combined with the sentence before it. Note that this is a good choice in this instance because it indicates the relationship in meaning between the two sentences.

In sentence 4, the fragment is changed into a complete sentence. It is grammatically correct as well.

In this next example of a sentence fragment, the fragment starts with the relative pronoun who, which also creates a subordinate clauses because relative pronouns must ‘relate’ back to another clause.

Complete sentence:     

5. Cathy is a chemistry teacher who never runs out of creative ideas.


6. Who has the ability to keep her classes involved throughout the lesson.

This fragment can be corrected several ways:

7.  Cathy is a chemistry teacher who never runs out of creative ideas and who has the ability to keep her classes involved throughout the lesson. (Because there are two relative clauses, they need to be corrected with and.)

8.  Cathy is a chemistry teacher who has the ability to keep her classes involved throughout the lesson because she never runs out of creative ideas.

9. She has the ability to keep her classes involved throughout the lesson.

All of the above examples are grammatically correct, but 8 offers a good example of how to recast a sentence to combine clauses for a clear meaning.



Can you identify which of the examples below are fragments and correct them?

1. Last summer at Disney World while I was riding the roller coaster with my five‑year‑old daughter.



2. We may not get tickets for the rock concert. Unless we order them weeks in advance.



3. Lock the door after I leave.



4. He wrecked the car that belonged to his mother.



5.    Because we are all glad that it is not one of us who is taking Marshall home.





Can you correct the dependent clause fragments in these excerpts from student essays?

Losing Your Identity

            Have you ever been around people who spoke a different language and thought to yourself, why don’t they just speak English? Did you think it was unfair? That you didn’t understand? Did you feel like you were being rational when you felt that way? For Gloria Anzaldua in the story “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” it had to have been hard for her. There were times. When she was humiliated for speaking Spanish. Her teacher told her “If you want to be American, speak ‘American.’ If you don’t like it. Go back to Mexico where you belong.” It’s almost like she tried to make Anzaldua feel ashamed.

            In Pan American University, instructors tried to wean students away from Spanish by requiring all Chicano students to take two speech classes to get rid of their accents. It was not only the outside world that made her start to lose her identity. It was her mother too.  “I want you to speak English” her mother told her. And even though she spoke English, her mother was mad. That she spoke English like a Mexican. No matter what she did, it just wasn’t good enough. It came to a point where Anzaldua was ashamed. That she even liked her own kind of music. Nevertheless, when she heard it. She just couldn’t help from thumping her feet and humming the words.


Arnold Joseph’s Problems

“Indians can’t hold their liquor.” If people were trying to prove that this myth was actually a fact. Arnold Joseph would have made it easy for them. In the movie Smoke Signals that was written by Sherman Alexie. Arnold Joseph was addicted to alcohol. He was also suffering from depression from having burned down the house that Thomas’s parents were in, killing them. Instead of putting down the alcohol, which was the reason for the accident. He started to depend on it more and more, trying to drown his sorrows. Arnold did not realize it, but his persistent drinking was destroying his family.

Last modified: Wednesday, August 28, 2013, 10:56 AM