What Are Clauses? As Explained by the Resident Grammar Police
If you clicked on this post expecting to see something about Santa and the Mrs., you’re in the wrong place. If you clicked on this post expecting to see something about nail art or cat claws, we should probably talk about spelling. Clauses have nothing to do with Santa or nails, but they have everything to do with making your sentences amazing.
There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent. Independent clauses are more commonly known as sentences. Dependent clauses are considered sentence fragments. However, both play a key role in creating fantastic sentences. We’ll discuss both in more detail.
An independent clause includes a subject, verb, and a complete thought. These are sentences that don’t include commas and conjunctions. For example: “I had pizza today.” This is an independent clause. Independent clauses can be joined together using coordinating conjunctions and independent marker words.
Independent marker words connect two independent clauses with a semicolon. These independent marker words include: however, also, furthermore, and therefore. As an example: “I had pizza today; however, it was cold when I got it.” When it comes to fiction writing, joining independent clauses this way is rare. The most common method is using coordinating conjunctions. You can see examples of using coordinating conjunctions to connect independent clauses in my post about conjunctions. (Make sure you’re using those commas too!)
Dependent clauses are tricky, especially when it comes to fiction writing. In fact, they can sometimes be useful in certain settings in your story. However, if you don’t know what they are and how to identify them, you might be using them wrong. In their most basic sense, dependent clauses are sentence fragments. They express some of what a sentence is trying to say but not all of it.
Like independent clauses, they often include a subject and a verb, but the thought involved with that subject and verb is left hanging. For example: “When I finish cleaning the cat box.” This dependent clause leaves the reader wondering what is going to happen when I finish. To fix this sentence, I would have to add a comma and another clause: “When I finish cleaning the cat box, I will wash my hands.”
Now, I mentioned earlier that dependent clauses can be used on their own in your story. Below is an example:
He watched as she scooped the clumped masses of dirt into a bag. “Are you going to make dinner?”
She rolled her eyes with a sigh. “When I finish cleaning the cat box.”
In the case of this bit of dialogue, “When I finish cleaning the cat box, I will make dinner” would have sounded awkward and redundant. We already know he’s wondering when dinner will be cooked. Judging from her eye roll and sigh, I almost feel like she might be considering cooking the contents of the cat box for his dinner.
Clauses play an important role in writing, and it’s important to be able to use independent and dependent clauses correctly. And please, remember to use your commas and your conjunctions!