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How to use clauses to write better English

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Suzy says:

 

A clause is a group of related words containing a subject and a verb. For example, "I live in Beijing" is a clause. The sentence, "I live in Beijing, which is in China," is two clauses ... joined together by the pronoun ‘which’.

 

Learning about clauses will help you to be a better writer in English.

In this lesson you'll see there are a few different types of clause.

 

Your English lesson about advanced clauses

 

Welcome to the Clauses lesson! Writing is a very important skill in life. Almost every job people have will require a good standard of writing. Even if it is only short emails, your writing skills will be important in your career.

In addition, many advanced, standardized English tests such as IELTS, TOEFL, and TOEIC will evaluate your ability to write.
 
One way to improve your writing score is by using a variety of different types of sentences. However, it is difficult to know if you're using different patterns unless you understand the way that clauses are combined to make larger sentences. 

 

In this lesson, we will look at the different types of clauses and how they work together. Many students say this is our most complicated lesson ... but after you have mastered this lesson, you will be able to write more advanced sentences and you will get higher scores in exams that test writing. Let’s get started.

 

What are clauses?


 A clause is a group of related words containing a subject and a verb. A phrase is different from a clause because a phrase is a group of related words that does not contain a subject-verb relationship. Some examples of phrases are "in the morning" or "walking down the street" or “after math class”.
 
There are a few different types of clauses that we will discuss in this lesson. However, the most important clauses to understand are independent and dependent clauses: 


- Independent clauses can stand by themselves as a complete sentence but dependent clauses can't.
- Dependent clauses depend on that clause for its meaning.
 

 

1. Independent Clauses


Independent clauses can stand by themselves as sentences. A complete sentence includes a subject and a verb and it expresses a complete thought. It is important to be able to recognize independent clauses in order to avoid common writing mistakes such as sentence fragments and run-on sentences.  We can combine independent clauses into larger sentences. Look at following example:
 
James didn't mean to arrive late, but his car broke down.
 
Here we have two independent clauses — "James didn't mean to arrive late" and "his car broke down". These independence clauses are connected by a comma and a coordinating conjunction ("but"). If the word "but" is missing from this sentence, it would be incorrect. This sentence would be called a comma splice. Two independent clauses would be incorrectly connected with only a comma between them.
 
Clauses are combined in three different ways: coordination, subordination, and with a semicolon

 

Coordination involves joining (bringing together) independent clauses with one of the coordinating conjunctions and, but, or, nor, for, yet, and sometimes so.
 
Jane didn’t like hamburgers, nor did her friend Anna.
Charles thought about joining the basketball team, but he didn’t know if he was good enough.

 
Subordination involves turning one of the clauses into a subordinate element (one that cannot stand on its own) through the use of a subordinating conjunction (sometimes called a dependent word) or a relative pronoun.

When the clause begins with a subordinating word, it is no longer an independent clause; it is called a dependent or subordinate clause because it depends on something else (the independent clause) for its meaning.
 
An independent clause, "He is my English teacher" (which could be its own sentence), can be turned into a dependent or subordinate clause when the same group of words begins with a dependent word or a subordinating conjunction. 

 

Because he is my English teacher, I always listen to his instructions.

If we just say, “Because he is my English teacher” it is not a sentence because it doesn’t express a complete thought. There are many ways of combining ideas — by turning independent clauses into various kinds of phrases.
 
Although Charles thought about joining the basketball team, he didn’t know if he was good enough.
 
Charles didn’t join the basketball team because he didn’t know if he was good enough.
 

We can also add a relative clause to the above sentence (we will talk about relative clauses in more detail later in the lesson):
 
Charles, who is not very tall, didn’t join the basketball team because he didn’t know if he was good enough.
 
Semicolons can connect two independent clauses. Semicolons should not be used frequently. They should only be used when the two independent clauses involved are closely related and nicely balanced in terms of length and importance.
 
Charles didn’t join the basketball team; he didn’t know if he was good enough.
 

 

2. Dependent Clauses


A dependent clause cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence. Dependent clauses must be combined with an independent clause because the dependent clause cannot stand by itself. Dependent clauses perform various functions within a sentence. They can act like a noun or as some kind of modifier.
 
Relative clauses are dependent clauses introduced by a relative pronoun (that, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose, and of which). This relative pronoun is the subject of the verb (remember that all clauses contain a subject-verb relationship) and refers to (relates to) something preceding the clause.
 
Relative clauses can be either restrictive or nonrestrictive. A nonrestrictive clause is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. It can be removed from the sentence without changing its basic meaning. Nonrestrictive clauses are often set apart from the rest of the sentence by a comma or a pair of commas if it's in the middle of a sentence.

(Nonrestrictive clause example)
Mrs. Jones, who used to be my neighbor, is now my son’s English teacher.
 
As you can see in this example, if we take out the clause in bold who used to be my neighbor the overall meaning doesn’t change. In this case it would read, “Mrs. Jones is now my son’s English teacher.” Now, look at this example:
 
(Restrictive clause example)
My brother just got back from his trip to China which was the best time in his life.
 
In this sentence, the clause which was the best time in his life is restrictive because it cannot be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. The most important information in this sentence is that he had the best time.
 
Some relative clauses will refer to more than a single word in the preceding text. They can modify an entire clause or even a series of clauses.
 
(Relative clause example)
Matthew didn't get the teaching job, which really surprised his friends.

In the above example, “which really surprised his friends” modifies the entire clause “Matthew didn’t get the teaching job”.
 
Matthew didn't get the teaching job, and he didn't even apply for the department head position, which really surprised his friends.

In this case, “which really surprised his friends” modifies both of the clauses that come before it.
 
A relative clause that refers to or modifies entire clauses in this manner is called a sentential clause.

 

 

3. Adverb, adjective and noun clauses

In addition to restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, we can also describe clauses based on how they function in the sentence. These are adverb clauses, adjective clauses, and noun clauses. Remember that a dependent clause always contains a subject and a verb, but it cannot stand by itself.
 


Adverb clauses provide information about what is going on in the main (independent) clause. Just like a single adverb, the adverb clause describes the verb in the sentence.
 
When the movie is over, we'll go downtown.
The team had fallen behind by ten points before they were able to figure out the opponent's defense.
Since he started working nights, he doesn't see much of his kids.
While Josie sat inside watching television, Gladys shoveled the driveway.

 


Adjective clauses work like multi-word adjectives.
 
My brother, who is a mechanic, fixed my car.
The bridge that collapsed in the winter storm will cost millions to replace.
My brother, who now teaches math in a small college, never liked math in high school.
The dealership that sold the most cars ended up actually losing money.

 


Noun clauses can do anything that nouns can do. They can serve as the subject, object, or the object of a preposition. 
 
Noun phrase - subject                
What he knows is not important to me.
What they did with the money was very foolish.
Whatever you want for dessert is fine with me.
That you should feel this way about your new job came as a great surprise to us.

 
Noun phrase - object 
Do you know what he knows?
Michael finally revealed what he had done with the money.
Her husband spent whatever she had saved over the years.
I don't know what I should do next.

 
Noun phrase – object of a preposition            
Can you tell me about what he knows?
He wrote a book about what he had learned over the years.
We are interested in what he does for a living.

 


It’s story time
 
Now that we’ve learned a lot about clauses, let’s see how they are used in a short story.  As you read the following story, pay attention to how the clauses are used. By the way, we haven’t yellow-highlighted the clauses in this story because there are so many of them.
 
I always wanted a bird who could talk. Fortunately, my mother, who was an animal lover, agreed to buy me a bird. I really wanted a Myna bird. I had seen one in the pet store, and as I walked up to its cage, it cried out to me, “Hello!”
 
So, the good news was my mom liked animals, and she was willing to buy me a pet. The bad news was that she was not rich, and a Myna bird, which was very expensive, was out of her price range. With this fact in mind, we decided to buy a parakeet.
 
The new parakeet, which was a beautiful aqua blue color, sang happily. I was determined that I would teach it to talk, so I sat next to its cage, and I said again and again, “Hello. Hello. Hello.” It felt like I was sitting there for hours each day, but it was probably only about 5 minutes maybe one or two days a week. Saying the same thing over and over again gets very boring very quickly. The amount of time that I spent is unimportant to the story. What is important is that the parakeet never even came close to saying, “Hello”.
 
While I was trying to train the parakeet who wouldn’t talk, I was able to build a nice friendship with the bird. I could take it out of its cage and it would sit on my shoulder while I walked around the house, practiced the piano, or did my homework. It wasn’t the talking bird that I always wanted, but it ended up being a great pet for me.
 

That’s the end of the lesson on clauses.

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