Subordinate Clause

reviewed byIryna Andrus / more about Editorial Process

Are you struggling to understand subordinate clauses in English? You're not alone. Many English learners find it challenging to distinguish between subordinate and independent clauses. However, once you understand the basics of subordinate clauses, you'll find it easier to construct complex sentences and express your ideas more clearly.

What is a subordinate clause?

A subordinate clause is a set of words with a subject and a verb that cannot be its own complete sentence. It needs to be attached to an independent clause to form a complete sentence.

For example, "After I finished my homework" is a subordinate clause because it contains a subject and a verb but cannot stand alone as a sentence. However, if we add an independent clause, such as "I went to bed," we have a complete sentence: 

"After I finished my homework, I went to bed."

Subordinate clause definition and examples

A subordinate clause is a dependent clause that cannot function as a sentence on its own. It is usually introduced by a subordinate conjunction or a relative pronoun.

Subordinate clauses can be used to add complexity to a sentence, provide additional information, or show the relationship between two ideas.

Here are some examples of subordinate clauses:

  • Because I was tired, I went to bed early.
  • Although it was dark, we went for a walk.
  • When I finish work, I'll call you.
  • Whoever finishes first gets a prize.

In each of these examples, the subordinate clause is highlighted in italics.

Types of subordinate clauses

Types of subordinate clauses

There are three types of subordinate clauses: adverbial, adjectival, and nominal.

An adverbial clause helps modify the verb in the independent clause and answers questions such as where, when, why, how, and to what extent.

For example:

  • After I finish my chores, I'll watch TV. (answers when)
  • I talked to her because I was worried. (answers why)

An adjectival clause helps modify a noun or pronoun in the independent clause and describes or identifies it.

For example:

  • The book that I read last night was very interesting.
  • The woman whose dog barked is my neighbor.

nominal clause functions as a noun in the sentence and can act as a subject, object, or complement.

For example:

  • What you said hurt my feelings. (subject)
  • I don't know where he went. (object)
  • His biggest fear is that he'll fail. (complement)

Subordinate clause placement in a sentence

The placement of a subordinate clause in a sentence depends on its type and function.

An adverbial clause usually comes at the beginning or end of a sentence, while an adjectival clause usually comes right after the noun it modifies. A nominal clause can come anywhere in the sentence, depending on its function.

For example:

  • Adverbial clause: After I finish my homework, I'll watch TV. (beginning)
  • Adjectival clause: The book that I read last night was very interesting. (right after the noun)
  • Nominal clause: I don't know where he went. (object)

Subordinate clause vs. independent clause

The main difference between a subordinate clause and an independent clause is that an independent clause can be its own sentence, while a subordinate clause cannot.

For example:

  • Independent clause: I went to bed early. (complete sentence)
  • Subordinate clause: Because I was tired. (incomplete sentence)

Common subordinate conjunctions

Subordinate conjunctions are words that introduce subordinate clauses. Some common subordinate conjunctions include:

  • after
  • although
  • as
  • as if
  • because
  • before
  • even though
  • if
  • in order that
  • since
  • so that
  • than
  • though
  • unless
  • until
  • when
  • whenever
  • where
  • wherever
  • whether
  • while


List of common subordinate clauses and their functions

Here is a list of common subordinate clauses and their functions:

Adverbial clauses

  • Time: after, before, since, until, when, whenever, while
  • Place: where, wherever
  • Manner: as, as if
  • Reason: because, since, as
  • Condition: if, unless, provided that, as long as
  • Concession: although, even though, though
  • Purpose: in order that, so that

Adjectival clauses

  • Relative pronouns: who, whom, whose, which, that
  • Relative adverbs: where, when, why

Nominal clauses

  • That-clauses: that, whether
  • Wh-clauses: what, when, where, who, whom, whose, why, how


By understanding the different types of subordinate clauses, their functions, and how to use them correctly, you can make your writing more complex, interesting, and clear. Keep practicing and experimenting with different sentence structures, and you'll soon become a master of English grammar!

Parts of Speech in English List of Adjectives in EnglishLinking verbs in EnglishEnglish Grammar RulesClauses in EnglishIndependent clauseDependent ClauseRelative Clause


No comments