Writing Dependent Clauses

by eslwriter on October 20, 2010

What is the difference between a dependent and independent clause?

It’s sometimes hard to know. Here’s a trick.

A dependent clause is like a five year old child. An independent clause is like a teenager? Why?

Well, keep reading.
Photo by Samael Kreutz

What’s a Dependent Clause?

Read this: “Since I have no money.”

Is this a sentence? No, it isn’t. It is a sentence fragment. A fragment is a piece of a sentence but not a whole sentence. Sentence fragments are common writing mistakes.

Fragments are sometimes made by ESL students who don’t know about dependent clauses. A dependent clause is a group of words that pretends to be a proper sentence.

What does ‘dependent’ mean? It means you need another thing to work properly. You can’t stand by yourself. You need help. For example, a five year old child depends on his/her mother and father for food and support.

Dependent clauses are the same thing. They need to be with an independent clause to work properly. Dependent clauses help a sentence but they can’t be alone.

Would you leave a five year old child alone in the house? No, you wouldn’t. Would you leave a dependent clause alone in a paragraph? No, you shouldn’t.

An independent clause is different. It is a group of words which make a proper sentence. An independent clause is like a teenager. It can stand by itself and it doesn’t need any help.

Write This, Not That

Write this:  Although Alice studied for many hours, she failed to pass the test.

Not that:    Although Alice studied for many hours.

Write this:   I like Korean food because it tastes spicy.

Not that:     Because it tastes spicy.

Write this:   Since I have no money, I can’t go to the concert.

Not that:      Since I have no money.

Fix the Writing Mistake

You can find a dependent clause by looking for helper words. These words give you a clue about where a dependent clauses starts.

First, a dependent clause often begins with a word called a ‘subordinating conjunction.’ Here are some examples (look for a longer list of subordinating conjunctions at the bottom of this page):

  • although          because          since

Second, a dependent clause can begin with a special word called a relative pronoun. These are relative pronouns:

  • that     who     whom     whose     which

Download Writing Worksheets

If you want to practice writing sentences with dependent clauses, read another lesson I prepared. This lesson teaches paraphrase writing by using subordinate conjunctions.

You can read the lesson and download the writing worksheets here.

Grammar Point: A List of Subordinating Conjunctions

  • after, although, as, as if, because, before, even if, even though
  • for, if, if only, rather than, since, that, though, unless, until
  • when, where, whereas, wherever, whether, which, while

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