Subordinate Clause Types


PAGE 3/7
Subordinate clauses may be finite or nonfinite. Within this broad classification, we can make many further distinctions. We will begin by looking at subordinate clauses which are distinguished by their formal characteristics.

Many subordinate clauses are named after the form of the verb which they contain:


You must book early [to secure a seat]


They made [the professor forget his notes]


His hobby is [collecting old photographs]


[Rejected by his parents], the boy turned to a life of crime

For convenience, we sometimes name a clause after its first element:


I'll be there at nine [if I catch the early train]

As we'll see on the next page, if-clauses are sometimes called conditional clauses.


David thinks [that we should have a meeting]

The that element is sometimes ellipted:

David thinks [we should have a meeting]

Relative Clauses

An important type of subordinate clause is the RELATIVE CLAUSE. Here are some examples:

The man [who lives beside us] is ill
The video [which you recommended] was terrific

Relative clauses are generally introduced by a relative pronoun, such as who, or which. However, the relative pronoun may be ellipted:

The video [you recommended] was terrific

Another variant, the REDUCED RELATIVE CLAUSE, has no relative pronoun, and the verb is nonfinite:

The man [living beside us] is ill
(Compare: The man [who lives beside us]...)

Nominal Relative Clauses

NOMINAL RELATIVE CLAUSES (or independent relatives) function in some respects like noun phrases:

[What I like best] is football
(cf. the sport I like best...)

The prize will go to [whoever submits the best design]
(cf. the person who submits...)

My son is teaching me [how to use email]
(cf. the way to use email)

This is [where Shakespeare was born]
(cf. the place where...)

The similarity with NPs can be further seen in the fact that certain nominal relatives exhibit number contrast:

Singular: [What we need] is a plan
Plural: [What we need] are new ideas
Notice the agreement here with is (singular) and are (plural).

Small Clauses

Finally, we will mention briefly an unusual type of clause, the verbless or SMALL CLAUSE. While clauses usually contain a verb, which is finite or nonfinite, small clauses lack an overt verb:

Susan found [the job very difficult]

We analyse this as a unit because clearly its parts cannot be separated. What Susan found was not the job, but the job very difficult. And we analyse this unit specifically as a clause because we can posit an implicit verb, namely, a form of the verb be:

Susan found [the job (to be) very difficult]

Here are some more examples of small clauses:

Susan considers [David an idiot]
The jury found [the defendant guilty]
[Lunch over], the guests departed quickly

All of the clause types discussed here are distinguished by formal characteristics. On the next page, we will distinguish some more types, this time on the basis of their meaning.


More on Clauses and Sentences...


copyright The Survey of English Usage 1996-1998
Supported by RingJohn
Online Marketing UK