The English Clause: Definition, Types and Examples

The English Clause: Definition, Types and Examples

Welcome to this interesting post, The English Clause: Definition, Types and Examples. The understanding of the English clause structure, just like the English Phrasal structure, is very important in gaining mastery of the English language.

The English Clause: Definition, Types and Examples

In the grammatical rank scale, the clause is the linguistic class that comes below the sentence and just above the phrase or group. What is a clause? This is a good question to ask at this point. Let us see the description of the English clause…

What is a Clause?

A clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb (it has a subject and a predicate) and forms a simple sentence or part of the non-simple sentence. A clause is a major unit of grammar and we define it by the elements it could contain: the subject, predicator, complement and the adjunct. As the finite verb is the most central to a clause, it is necessary to identify a clause by its main verb.

Types of Clauses

In broad categorisations, there are two types of clauses. These include the main clause and the subordinate clause. Let us briefly consider these two broad types…

The Main Clause: A Definition

A clause can stand alone as a complete thought or sentence. We call this type of clause Independent, Main or Alpha clause. This clause does not depend on another clause to fully express itself. Examples of the main clause include:

  • I will be there.
  • I came, I saw, I conquered.
  • We have arrived.
  • There is no smoke without fire.
  • He got home, slept and left for the library.
  • Who has read the book?
  • Get out now!
  • What a pleasant surprise this is!
  • She will travel to Lagos and board a flight to London.
  • I saw the book but I could not buy it.

A sentence can contain more than one clause which can all be main clauses. In the instance of more than one main clause in a sentence, the clause is usually joined together by a coordinating conjunction. Such sentences could also be a simple sentence, compound sentence or a multiple sentence. (See Types of Sentences According to Structure). The main clause does not have any further subdivision unlike its other type, the subordinate clause.

What is a Subordinate Clause?

The subordinate clause is a type that does not express a complete thought and cannot stand alone in a sentence as a separate grammatical entity since its meaning depends on the meaning of the main clause. A subordinate clause gives additional information to the main clause. Some types of linguistic items we generally refer to as subordinators or subordinating conjunctions introduce the subordinate clause in a sentence (see subordination and coordination). Sometimes, the words, on their own, could also be adverbs. These subordinators include: when, unless, after, before, despite, while, that, whom, whose, who, which, if, though, although, because, etc. In describing the subordinate clause, which cannot stand on its own, we also refer to it as the dependent or Beta clause. Let us see some examples of the subordinate clause in sentences:

  • When I heard the news I was disturbed.
  • If I come tomorrow I will buy the book.
  • While waiting for the bus he met an old friend.
  • Despite playing very well the team lost the game.
  • The girl whose bicycle got damaged has bought a new one.
  • Unless we pray, nothing will happen.
  • The family whom I love as mine has relocated
  • After eating a heavy lunch the boys slept off.
  • The car which was stolen has been found.
  • She could not attend the event because her flight was cancelled.

Classification of the Subordinate or Dependent Clause

Just as the clause has two broad classifications, we can also classify the subordinate, dependent or Beta clause at two levels. These are:

  1. Structural Classification
  2. Functional Classification

This classification is similar to the classification of sentences in English which we can classify based on structure and based on function. (See Types of Sentences according to Structure and Types of Sentences according to Function). Let us proceed to look at each of these divisions…

Structural Classification of the Subordinate Clause

The structural classification of the subordinate clause occurs under two types:

  1. The Finite Clause
  2. The Non-Finite Clause

Let us examine each of these structural classifications of the subordinate, Beta or dependent clause…

The Finite Clause: A Definition

A finite clause is that which contains a finite verb. You may ask: ‘What is a finite verb?’ Good question! A finite verb is one which can inflect or vary its form to show tense, present or past. This is why we sometimes refer to finite verbs as ‘tensed verbs’ Modal auxiliaries, non-modal auxiliaries and main or lexical verbs all have finite forms. (See Types of Verbs). For a clearer understanding, we can also say a finite verb is that verb which is tied to or dependent on the subject.

Consider these examples:

  • The man who visits us every day is here.
  • The man who is visiting us every day is here.
  • That the school closes at two is sure.
  • The men who are visiting us every day are here.
  • When the examination starts, you shall be informed.
  • The lady who was visited by us is here.
  • He likes to sit in the front row
  • Sharon buys gas every weekend.
  • Women have an association that caters for their needs.
  • The lady has a pleasant boss.
  • When the students arrive, we will take them on tour of the facility.

One thing you will notice is that the finite verbs in the examples above change when the subject changes. Let us see the other type…

The Non-Finite Clause

This contains a non-finite verb; that is, a verb whose form will not change with the subject. In essence, the verb is not tied to the subject. It could take the following forms:

‘–in’ Form of the Verb. (Progressive)

For example:

  • The man visiting us every day is here.
  • The men visiting us every day are here.

 ‘-end/-en’ Form of the Verb (Perfective)

  • The lady visited by us is here.
  • Taken for granted, he left the team.
  • Sacked for negligence, she went to the court.
  • Given the situation, they had no choice.

Both the ‘-ing’ and the ‘-ed/-en’ forms have to do with aspect

  • Frightened by his friends, he ran away (non-finite)
  • When he was frightened by his friends, he ran away (finite)
  • The man frightened by his friend ran away (non-finite)
  • The man who was frightened by his friend ran away (finite/relative clause)


When there are two elements in the verbal group, the finiteness of the verb is always realised on the modal auxiliary or non-modal auxiliary.

Now that we have explained the structural classification of the subordinate clause, let us take a look at the functional classification of the dependent clause. As we noted above, there are three levels at which we can classify the subordinate clause functionally. These are:

Functional Classification of the Subordinate Clause

Classification based on function has three manifestations and these are:

The Noun/Nominal Clause

The Relative Clause or Adjectival Clause

The Adverbial Clause

I have discussed each of these levels in separate posts with definitions, types, functions and copious examples. Endeavour to see each of the posts.


A lot of people grapple with the concept of the Clause, the finite clause and the non-finite clause. If this post has been of help to you, do not forget to share with your friends; especially the one in schools, colleges and other higher institutions of learning for them to have a firm grasp of the English Clause. Check the other posts on the three divisions of the subordinate clause: Noun clause, Adverbial clause and Relative or Adjectival clause.


  1. I salute for you akademia,for reading this, I have gotten many things useful and improved my interest for learning English especially, in this field. I wish you all the best.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *