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Difference Between Independent and Dependent Clause With Examples

Difference Between Independent and Dependent Clause With Examples
Independent clauses are complete sentences, while dependent clauses depend on the main clause. This Penlighten article will give you a clear idea about the difference between independent and dependent clause with examples.
Buzzle Staff
Last Updated: Jun 2, 2018
Always Remember
A compound sentence contains two independent clauses joined by a conjunction. A complex sentence, on the other hand, contains an independent clause and a dependent clause. The latter is always dependent on the former to make a sentence meaningful.
A clause is a collection of words and is a part of a complete sentence. You may be aware that there are three types of sentences―simple, compound, and complex. Compound and complex sentences are the ones that contain clauses. These clauses are generally joined together with a conjunction.

Clauses are classified based on different criteria. However, a common methodology by means of which they are distinguished is independent clause and dependent clause. They are also termed as main and subordinate clause, respectively.

A brief independent clause vs. dependent clause comparison is highlighted below with suitable examples.
Independent Clause
  • Independent clauses are those which make complete sense all by themselves, i.e., they can be termed as complete, meaningful sentences.
  • Two independent clauses can be joined by a conjunction, punctuations, or a conjunctive adverb. Together, they form a compound sentence.
  • However, just because an independent clause stands individually as a complete sentence does not mean it is obligated to be so, i.e., the conjunction or semi-colon joining them suggests a closer relationship between the two, and makes a complete meaning.
  • The punctuations that can join these clauses are a comma or semi-colon.
  • Remember that these punctuations occur before the conjunction. The list of words that can join these clauses are:
Yet Nor So Or
But For However And
Therefore Nevertheless
  • Some examples include:
  1. I was late to work today.
  2. I am irritated.
  3. The salesman is at the door.
Dependent Clause
  • Dependent clauses are those, which are always incomplete, i.e., they can never stand alone as complete, meaningful sentences.
  • They always depend on the main clause and are joined by conjunctions as well as relative pronouns.
  • They, along with the main clause form a complex sentence. Their existence is for adding meaning to the sentence.
  • They are also called subordinate clauses, and they will give you the answer to the question you ask to the main clause. This of course, depends on the type of subordinate clause. i.e., whether they are noun, adjective, or adverb clauses.
  • The list of words that can be used to join the main clause and subordinate clause are:
Because Rather than That If
When Wherever Whereas Why
Until Provided that As Than
Even though In order to In order that Even if
Once Unless Where Although
While After Before So that
Though Whether Whenever Since

Relative Pronouns
Whose Whoever Whosoever Who
Whom Which Whichever Whomever
  • Some examples include:
  1. Because I arrived late.
  2. If this does not happen...
  3. Since I was present there.
Differences with Examples
I went to the party and I had soft drinks.

Both sentences, 'I went to the party' and 'I had soft drinks' are independent clauses. They can be stated as individual sentences, yet the 'and' creates a more intimate relationship between the two.

I was very tired after work. But I still washed the dishes.

Observe the above sentences. Both are independent clauses, and are joined by 'but'. However, notice that there is a period (.) after the first sentence, after which the second sentence continues with a conjunction. This is possible only in case of independent clauses, that the joining word makes sense when included with the clause. This cannot happen in case of a dependent clause.

She missed her bus, consequently, she was late for class.

In this case, the coordinating word is a conjunctive adverb.

The teacher was leaving the class when I arrived.

'When I arrived' makes no sense in this case. It is only after reading 'The teacher was leaving the class', does the sentence make complete sense.

Although I lost my car, I am glad to be alive.
I am glad to be alive, though I am financially broke.

Observe the two sentences carefully. The sentence 'I am glad to be alive' is the highlight here. Yet, the usage of the two different conjunctions and two different dependent clauses can change the meaning of the sentence completely. Thus, the subordinate clause is heavily dependent on the main clause, it just cannot survive on its own.

Emily decided to meet her friend after her class was over.

In this case, ask a question 'When' to the main clause, 'Emily decided to meet her friend'. Do you get the answer in the subordinate clause? Thus, the subordinate clause here is an adverb clause of time, since the answer is related to the time when Emily would perform the action (verb).

What she does with the money is none of our business.

This is a noun clause, since it does what is normally the function of a noun. In this case, it is used as a subject.

My sister, who is an expert, helped me out with this.

This is a dependent adjective clause, since the coordinating word is describing the noun in the main clause.

Students, who have a low score, must enroll for remedial tests.

Here, 'Students must enroll for remedial tests' will be the main/independent clause, and 'who have a low score' will be the subordinate adjective clause.

If I do not arrive before 7, you can leave for the party.

Here, 'If I do not arrive before 7', is a subordinate adverb clause.

An important thing you need to remember is not to join two independent clauses with a comma. This is an error and is called comma splice.
Clauses form a very integral part of grammar. Independent and dependent clauses are rather easy to learn and identify, and are used often for appropriate and meaningful sentence formation. While studying this topic at an advanced level, do not forget the basics. A clause is different from a phrase, the latter has no finite verb. Also, remember that a proper sentence needs to have the subject and the object, this goes for all three types of sentences. The marvel of language and grammar will never cease to amaze us, right?