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English - Clauses

A clause is part of a sentence which contains a verb. It will usually contain a noun, acting as a subject, to show who or what is carrying out the action.

Underline the main clause in the following sentence:
Dominic walked through the doorway and stood in the garden.

The subject of the sentence in this case is 'Dominic'. He carries out the main action of the sentence - 'walked' - and in fact carries out a secondary action - 'stood' - although his name doesn't appear as a subject again. In order to know what the main clause is, we should have a look at a glossary of terms.

  • Main clauses can stand alone as short sentences. They contain a subject and verb.
  • Subordinate / dependent clauses contain a verb and, often, a subject; they cannot stand on their own as they have a connective attached.
  • Relative clauses are ones which provide extra information about someone or something within a sentence. Often they are bounded by commas; they are not able to stand on their own.
  • Phrases do not contain verbs, therefore they are different from clauses.
  • The main clause in the question we have is 'Dominic walked through the doorway' as it could stand alone as a simple sentence.

Pick out the main clause in the following sentence.
Jada, who had walked to school in the morning, was delighted to be picked up in the car.

The idea of a main clause is to give critical information about the actions of a person or thing. It will stand alone as a sentence if it has the remainder removed.

In our example, we must remove the extraneous words and come up with a shortened sentence which makes sense. However, we are not allowed to change the order of the words. If we read any one part of the sentence on its own, there is no single chunk that can be read and make sense. At this point, you need to remind your child that there is no need to stick to continuous words in the sentence, you are allowed to take elements from two parts of it.

The key thing that we are being told is that Jada had reason to be delighted; the fact that she walked to school is extra information. The extra piece of information is actually a relative clause - it provides extra information about the subject of the sentence and, tellingly, is bounded by commas. If we take it out, we are left with:
Jada was delighted to be picked up in the car.

This is the main clause in the sentence.

In the following sentence, underline the subordinate clause and circle the main clause:
After the catch was taken, the fielder was congratulated by his teammates.

The main clause is the one which stands alone whereas a subordinate clause cannot do so as it involves a connective. Breaking the sentences into constituent parts, there are two clear sections. 'After the catch was taken' is the subordinate clause due to it needing something else to make it work as a sentence. The word 'after' means that we need more information to complete the sentence. It is definitely a clause, rather than a phrase, as it contains the verb 'was taken'.

'The fielder was congratulated by his teammates' exists as a separate sentence if the remainder is removed. It must, therefore, be the main clause.

The answer will be:
After the catch was taken, the fielder was congratulated by his teammates.

Let's have a look at another variation on clauses:

In the following sentence, what grammatical term would you use to explain the underlined words?
The city, which was easily the biggest he'd ever seen, came into view.

The part which has been underlined is not a main clause as it does not make sense on its own. It is a clause as there are verbs in it ('was' and 'seen') so cannot be a phrase. It is a clause which adds some extra detail to the sentence, therefore it is a RELATIVE CLAUSE. Relative clauses tend to begin with 'which', 'who', 'whom', 'whose' or 'that'.

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