Modifiers of the Verb Part Four: Clauses


So far we’ve seen three different grammatical ways to modify the verb: single word adverbs; prepositional phrases; and verb phrases. Now, we’ll look at clauses.

A clause is a group of words with a subject and a predicate.[1]

So, a sentence is a clause.

However, not all clauses are sentences.

There are two main types of clauses: independent clauses, also known as main clauses, and dependent clauses, also known as subordinate clauses. An independent clause stands on its own as a sentence. A dependent clause does not. A dependent clause is marked by a subordinating conjunction: a word that signals for the reader that the coming clause depends on the main clause.

An example: Everyone cheered for Bob when he won the award.

The subject of the sentence is everyone.

The main verb is cheered.

Everyone cheered for Bob is an independent clause. So is he won the award. But when we put when in there, the second clause becomes dependent.

Notice how that phrase when he won the award is adverbial. It tells us about the verb cheered. It answers the question when. (It also sort of answers the question why, too.)

So a subordinating conjunction is a word that establishes a relationship between two clauses, making one the main clause (independent) and the other subordinate (dependent).

Like our other adverbials, subordinate clauses are movable. The sentence could easily read “When he won the award, everyone cheered for Bob.” (Here you’d probably want to swap Bob in the subordinate clause with the pronoun in main clause, for clarity).

The most common subordinating conjunctions include when, while, until, because, before, after, since, if, and as, but of course there are several more.

An example of the difference between using a both an independent and dependent clause and using two separate independent clauses:

He rounded the corner. A shot rang out.

Okay, because these are two independent clauses, we assume that these are sequential events. However, if we use a subordinating conjunction, the meaning becomes far more specific.

Because he rounded the corner, a shot rang out.

  • Because makes the first action the cause of the second

After he rounded the corner, a shot rang out.

  • After solidifies that sequence of events.

When he rounded the corner, a shot rang out.

  • When tells us the events were concurrent.

As he rounded the corner, a shot rang out.

  • As also tells us that the events were concurrent.


So, there you go! As you write, go boldly forth and use all four kinds of adverbials to your advantage to modify your verbs!



[1] Martha Kolln and Robert Funk, Understanding English Grammar, 9th edition. New York: Pearson, 2012. 121.


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