27 February 2013
Grammar Bites: The uses of subordinate clauses
In the last issue of Grammar Bites we had a look at what constitutes a main and a subordinate clause in a sentence. This time we will have a look at how subordinate clauses are used.
Subordinate clauses are used for three main purposes:
Qualifying nouns and pronouns
The subordinate clause can be used to give more information about the noun or pronoun. For example:
- "The book that Peter was reading contained all the answers they needed."
- Main clause: The book contained all the answers they needed
- Subordinate clause: that Peter was reading – this clause tells us more about the book and helps to identify which book is under discussion; but if we left it out of the sentence completely, the sentence would still make grammatical sense.
- "Anyone who attended the party is a suspect."
- Main clause: Anyone is a suspect
- Subordinate clause: who attended the party – this clause qualifies who we mean by the pronoun anyone; without it, anyone encompasses the whole human race – with it, anyone refers only to those humans who attended the party.
Modifying verbs, adverbs and adjectives
In a similar way, subordinate clauses can modify verbs, adjectives and adverbs. For example:
- "We may find out more once the court-case gets underway."
- Main clause: We may find out more
- Subordinate clause: once the court-case gets underway – this clause tells us more about the conditions attached to our being able to find out.
- "The man was so angry that everyone ran away."
- Main clause: The man was so angry
- Subordinate clause: that everyone ran away – here the subordinate clause answers the question: 'what was the effect of his being that angry?' It modifies our understanding of the adjectival phrase so angry.
Acting as subjects or objects
This is where the clause stands in for a noun. For example:
- "He liked eating from other people's plates."
- Subject: He
- Verb: liked
- Object of the sentence: eating from other people's plates [the subordinate clause]
- "When she gets time to learn so many things is unclear."
- Subject: When she gets time to learn so many things [the subordinate clause]
- Verb: is
- Object: unclear
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