Independent and Dependent Clauses: Understanding Noun Clauses, Adjective Clauses, and Adverb Clauses

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I recently received this letter from a former student.

I was in your class a long time ago. I knew I had some really good ideas, but I didn’t know how to communicate them correctly. I began to despair. I lost confidence in my ability to write. I nearly threw away my story about my friend Harry. That’s when you rescued me from the writer’s abyss. You taught me about independent and dependent clauses, which helped me eliminate fragments and run-ons from my writing. I am now a successful writer of fantasy novels.



I was naturally warmed by this positive letter. I don’t quite recall having a J.K. in my class. She mentioned something about pottery too. Anyhow, here’s the aforementioned lesson plan on independent and dependent clauses:

Dependent and Independent Clauses Explained

Share this information with the class:

  • A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb.

  • An independent clause expresses a complete thought and can stand by itself as a complete sentence.

  • A dependent clause, or subordinate clause, contains a subject and a verb but cannot stand alone as a sentence. A subordinate clause must always be combined with an independent clause.

  • A dependent clause begins with a subordinating conjunction (before, although, after, while, because, since, etc.)

  • A Santa Clause climbs down your chimney on Christmas Eve.

  • Understanding different types of clauses helps eliminate fragments and run-ons.

Adverb and Adjective Clauses

Types of dependent clauses include:

  • Adjective Clause: these function as adjectives in a sentence. Adjective clauses answer the questions which one, what kind, how much, how many. They are introduced by a relative pronoun (who, whom, that, whose, which). They function as an adjective, are sometimes separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma, and should be placed next to the noun or pronoun they modify.

Example: Santa Clause,who grew impatient with every second, gave Blitzen thirteen whipstrokes across the face. In this example, the dependent clause beginning with who modifies Santa Clause.

  • Adverbial Clause: these function as adverbs in a sentence. Adverbial clauses answer the questions how, why and to what extent. They are introduced by a relative adverb (when, where, and why). They function as an adverb, and are not separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma.

Example: Investigators claim Rudolph’s red nose derives from alcohol abuse. Apparently, he knocks back whisky whenever the other reindeer play their games.

Noun Clauses

  • These function as nouns in a sentence, may be used anywhere in the sentence and can serve as subject, direct object, indirect object, predicate nominative, or object of the preposition. Noun clauses are usually introduced by a subordinating conjunction or relative adverb.

Example: What you invest in may determine the quality of your retirement. (subject)

Example: The wounded reindeer wondered why Santa was not so jolly this Christmas Eve. (direct object)

Example: Santa brought whoever was in his angry path fear and loathing. (indirect object)

Example_: Shark attacks are **what the scuba diver did not want**._ (predicate nominative)

Example_: The scuba instructor’s safety depended on **how much faster he could swim than his students**._(object of the preposition)

Why and How to Teach Clauses

An understanding of clauses will eliminate most sentence run-ons and fragments. That’s the good news. The bad news is there really is no “fun” way to do it. I recommend posting this information and having students take notes. Once you feel they have a solid grasp on dependent and independent clauses, teach them how to eliminate run-ons and fragments.

For a complete semester 1 curriculum guide for Freshmen English, follow the link.

This post is part of the series: Better Grammar Equals Better Writing

Grammar builds the foundation for good writing: the better the grammar, the better the writing.

  1. Teaching Students How to Combine Sentences and Improve their Writing
  2. Lesson Plan: Eliminate Weak Verb-Adverb Combinations
  3. Lesson Plan: Eliminate “To Be” Verbs
  4. Lesson Plan: Write With Strong Verbs
  5. Lesson Plan: Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
  6. Revising Pronouns and Antecedents with this Lesson Plan
  7. Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement Made Easy
  8. Lesson Plan: Understanding Independent and Dependent Clauses
  9. Teach Your Kids to Eliminate Fragments and Run-ons in Their Writing
  10. Lesson Plan: Use Parts of Speech to Improve Sentence Beginnings