Identifying Independent and Dependent Clauses

When you want to use commas and semicolons in sentences and when you are concerned about whether a sentence is or is not a fragment, a good way to start is to be able to recognize dependent and independent clauses. The definitions offered here will help you with this.

Independent Clause

An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought. An independent clause is a sentence.

Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz.

Dependent Clause

A dependent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and verb but does not express a complete thought. A dependent clause cannot be a sentence. Often a dependent clause is marked by a dependent marker word.

When Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz . . . (What happened when he studied? The thought is incomplete.)

Dependent Marker Word

A dependent marker word is a word added to the beginning of an independent clause that makes it into a dependent clause.

When Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz, it was very noisy.

Some common dependent markers are: afteralthoughasas ifbecausebeforeeven ifeven thoughifin order tosincethoughunlessuntilwhateverwhenwhenever,whether, and while.

Connecting dependent and independent clauses

There are two types of words that can be used as connectors at the beginning of an independent clause: coordinating conjunctions and independent marker words.

  1. Coordinating Conjunction

The seven coordinating conjunctions used as connecting words at the beginning of an independent clause are andbutforornorso, and yet. When the second independent clause in a sentence begins with a coordinating conjunction, a comma is needed before the coordinating conjunction:

Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz, but it was hard to concentrate because of the noise.

  1. Independent Marker Word

An independent marker word is a connecting word used at the beginning of an independent clause. These words can always begin a sentence that can stand alone. When the second independent clause in a sentence has an independent marker word, a semicolon is needed before the independent marker word.

Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz; however, it was hard to concentrate because of the noise.

Some common independent markers are: alsoconsequentlyfurthermorehowever,moreovernevertheless, and therefore.

Some Common Errors to Avoid

Comma Splices

A comma splice is the use of a comma between two independent clauses. You can usually fix the error by changing the comma to a period and therefore making the two clauses into two separate sentences, by changing the comma to a semicolon, or by making one clause dependent by inserting a dependent marker word in front of it.

Incorrect: I like this class, it is very interesting.

  • Correct: I like this class. It is very interesting.
  • (or) I like this class; it is very interesting.
  • (or) I like this class, and it is very interesting.
  • (or) I like this class because it is very interesting.
  • (or) Because it is very interesting, I like this class.

Fused Sentences

Fused sentences happen when there are two independent clauses not separated by any form of punctuation. This error is also known as a run-on sentence. The error can sometimes be corrected by adding a period, semicolon, or colon to separate the two sentences.

Incorrect: My professor is intelligent I’ve learned a lot from her.

  • Correct: My professor is intelligent. I’ve learned a lot from her.
  • (or) My professor is intelligent; I’ve learned a lot from her.
  • (or) My professor is intelligent, and I’ve learned a lot from her.
  • (or) My professor is intelligent; moreover, I’ve learned a lot from her.

Sentence Fragments

Sentence fragments happen by treating a dependent clause or other incomplete thought as a complete sentence. You can usually fix this error by combining it with another sentence to make a complete thought or by removing the dependent marker.

Incorrect: Because I forgot the exam was today.

  • Correct: Because I forgot the exam was today, I didn’t study.
  • (or) I forgot the exam was today.

  1. What is the function of the word ‘thought’in the following sentence?
    Jacqueline thought she would win first place in the contest.
  • subject of the independent clause
  • object of the independent clause
  • complement to the object
  • verb of the independent clause

‘would win’ is the verb of the noun clause ‘she would win’


  1. What is the function of ‘to celebrate her promotion’in the following sentence?
    Belinda invited her friends to her house for lunch to celebrate her promotion.
  • object to the verb ‘invited’
  • complement to ‘invited’
  • subject of a dependent clause
  • verb of a dependent clause

Why did she invite them? To celebrate.


  1. A subject complementis similar to an object, except that it completes the meaning of the subject rather than the verb.
  • true
  • false

  1. Is the following sentence complete and correct?
    What you do with your own free time is up to you.
  • Yes.
  • No – it needs an object.
  • No – it needs an action verb.
  • No – it needs a subject.

What you do with your own free time = S is = V up to you = sC


  1. Read the following sentence carefully:
    When they need a little source of inspiration, whether to help them persevere in their efforts or simply to brighten their otherwise ordinary lives, many people often turn to the arts, especially the movies, because they find that fantasy and fiction are great ways to forget the harshness of reality.
    What is the main subject-verb pairing?
  • they need
  • their efforts to brighten
  • people turn to
  • they find

independent clause = many people often turn to the arts


  1. Read the following sentence carefully:
    Over the last century, especially in the wealthier areas of the world, sociologists have noticed a growing tendency among ordinary people to neglect the natural relationship between themselves and their environment.
    How many independent clauses are in this sentence?
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4

independent clause = sociologists have noticed a growing tendency The rest of the items are modifiers.


  1. Read the following sentence carefully:
    Over the last century, especially in the wealthier areas of the world, sociologists have noticed a growing tendency among ordinary people to neglect the natural relationship between themselves and their environment.
    What is the main subject of this sentence?
  • world
  • relationship
  • tendency
  • sociologists

  1. Wanting to be a good neighbor, Heather baked a pie for the family that had just moved in next door.
    In the above sentence, what is the independent clause?
  • Wanting to be a good neighbor
  • Heather baked a pie
  • that had just moved in next door

  1. A sentence can have no complements, or it can have many complements. It depends on the writer.
  • true
  • false

Not all sentences have complements, and some sentences have many complements.

 Source

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