Clause combining

Clauses can be combined by coordination (for example, Harry likes cats but Delia likes dogs), or subordination (for example, She kept running until she was out of breath). Subordinate clauses can be distinguished according to their function and whether or not they contain a finite verb.


1. Types of combined clauses

2. Functions of subordinate clauses

Related pages



Types of combined clauses

Coordination is always between elements with the same grammatical status. Coordinated clauses are each independent clauses and are able to stand on their own. For example the clauses Margaret has a fine sense of style, and Frank is really more of a natural guy, can be presented separately or conjoined to emphasise a contrast between Margaret and Frank: Margaret has a fine sense of style but Frank is really more of a natural guy.

Subordinate clauses are dependent on the main clause and express additional information about some element there.

There are two basic parameters for distinguishing among subordinate clauses. We can examine whether the verb in the subordinate clause is finite or non-finite and we can consider what function the subordinate clause has in relation to the main clause.

Functions of subordinate clauses

Subordinate clauses occur as modifiers, adjuncts or complements in the main clause. They are always part of some larger clause, which is called the main clause (also matrix clause). Subordinate clauses often (but not always) have significant structural differences to main clauses and these types of subordinate clauses are not grammatical as independent utterances. Consider the following examples:

Sarah is a brilliant cook. [basic clause]
that Sarah is a brilliant cook [finite non-basic clause – contains subordinator that]
I agree that Sarah is a brilliant cook. [subordinate clause in object function]

Jude was trying on the shirt. [basic clause]
Jude was trying on [finite non-basic clause – missing complement to preposition]
I liked the shirt Jude was trying on. [subordinate clause – relative clause modifying noun shirt]

Sandy went to the beach. [basic clause]
going to the beach [non-finite non-basic clause – missing the subject noun phrase]
Sandy insisted on going to the beach. [subordinate clause – complement to preposition on]

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