What is a Clause?

Like the phrase, a clause is also a group of words, but it is different from a phrase. In a clause, you must find a subject and a predicate.

For our purpose here, it is enough to remember just this much about the subject and the predicate:

  • a subject is someone or something about which we say something;

  • a predicate is whatever we say about that someone or something. The predicate must have a verb.

Types of Clauses

A clause may be built around a finite verb or a non-finite verb.


  • If it is based on a finite verb, it is called a finite clause.

    Since the team lost the match, the coach resigned.

    "Since the team lost the match" is a finite clause because the verb 'lost' is a finite verb.


  • If it is based on a non-finite verb, it is called a non-finite clause.

    The team having lost the match, the coach resigned.

    "The team having lost the match" is a non-finite clause because the verb 'having lost' is a non-finite verb (perfect participle).

What is important for us on this journey to find the answer to the question, 'What is a sentence?', is the route of finite clauses.

So in this article, we shall ignore the non-finite clauses.

Types of Finite Clauses

A finite clause may be independent or dependent.

Here are some famous examples of independent clauses:

  • "The light has gone out of our lives." (Jawaharlal Nehru)
  • "I have a dream." (Martin Luther King Jr.)
  • "The weak can never forgive." (Mahatma Gandhi)

These clauses are said to be independent because they are sufficient the way they are. They don't need any other group of words to depend upon. They can stand on their own.

Here are some examples of dependent clauses:

  1. The light that shone in this country was no ordinary light.
  2. You can learn grammar freely here, if you read these pages.
  3. We are declaring to you what we have seen.

In the last three sentences above, the dependent clauses are highlighted, and we shall now see on what they depend.

The dependent clause...

  • 'that shone in this country' depends on the independent clause 'the light was no ordinary light'.

  • 'if you read these pages' depends on 'you can learn grammar freely here'.

  • 'what we have seen' depends on 'we are declaring to you'.

Types of Dependent Clauses

They are of three types, depending upon the work they do.

See the three numbered sentences above.
(Here they are once again for your convenience.)

  1. The light that shone in this country was no ordinary light.

  2. You can learn grammar freely here, if you read these pages.

  3. We are declaring to you what we have seen.

Adjective (Relative) Clauses

In sentence 1—the clause 'that shone in this country' describes the noun light.

Words that describe a noun are called adjectives. Therefore, clauses that describe a noun are called adjective clauses.

They are also known by the name relative clauses, because they always begin with a relative pronoun or relative adverb.

Adverb Clauses

In sentence 2—the clause 'if you read these pages' tells us something more about verb 'can learn'.

Words that tell us something more about verbs are called adverbs. Therefore, clauses which do the same job are called adverb clauses.

Noun Clauses

In sentence 3—We are declaring to you 'what we have seen'—if we ask the question, "are declaring what?", we get the answer 'what we have seen'.

A word which has this kind of relationship to a verb is called an object. To be an object is the privilege of nouns, pronouns, noun phrases, and noun clauses. So, 'what we have seen' is a noun clause.

We are now ready to move on from the Clause to the Sentence.

< Phrase Clause Sentence >

For Further Reading and Study...


Related Pages

The World of Sentences

The Phrase

A Semantic Understanding of the Phrase

The Clause

The Sentence

Parts of a Sentence

Sentence Structure

Subject of a Sentence