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Clauses

A clause is a group of words that contains a verb (and usually other components too). A clause may form part of a sentence or it may be a complete sentence in itself. For example:
 
He was eating a chicken sandwich.
[clause]
 
She had a long career
but she is remembered mainly for one early work.
[clause]
[clause]
  
 
Main clause
 
Every sentence contains at least one main clause. A main clause may form part of a compound sentence or a complex sentence, but it also makes sense on its own. For example:
 
He was eating a chicken sandwich.
[main clause]
 
 
Compound sentences are made up of two or more main clauses linked by a conjunction such as and, but, or so, as in the following examples:
 
He loved sports
and
specialized in hockey and football.
[main clause]
[conjunction]
[main clause]
 
She was born in Kansas
but
her mother is Swedish.
[main clause]
[conjunction]
[main clause]
 
 
Subordinate clause
 
A subordinate clause depends on a main clause for its meaning. Together with a main clause, a subordinate clause forms part of a complex sentence. Here are two examples of sentences containing subordinate clauses:
 
 
After we had had lunch,
we went back to work.
[subordinate clause]
[main clause]
 
I first saw her in Paris,
where I lived in the early nineties.
[main clause]
[subordinate clause]
 
 
There is one type of subordinate clause that can cause problems, known as a relative clause.
 
 
Relative clause
 
A relative clause is one connected to a main clause by a word such as which, that, whom, whose, when, where, or who:
 
I first saw her in Paris,
where I lived in the early nineties.
[main clause]
[relative clause]
 
She wants to be with Thomas,
who is best suited to take care of her.
[main clause]
[relative clause]
 
 
Using relative clauses
 
The difficulty with relative clauses arises because people are sometimes uncertain about when to use that and when to use which or who. For much of the time, in fact, that is more or less interchangeable with either of these words, but in some cases, the word that is never the correct choice. The reason for the distinction is that there are two types of relative clause: a restrictive relative clause and a nonrestrictive relative clause.
 
 
Restrictive relative clause
 
A restrictive relative clause (also known as a defining relative clause) gives essential information about a noun that comes before it. Without this clause the sentence wouldn’t make much sense. A restrictive relative clause can be introduced by that, which, whose, who, or whom. You do not place a comma in front of a restrictive relative clause. For example:
 
You're the only person
that has ever listened to me.
You're the only person
who has ever listened to me.
[main clause]
[restrictive relative clause]
 
 
She held out the hand
that was hurt.
She held out the hand
which was hurt.
[main clause]
[restrictive relative clause]
 
Note: For sentences like the pair above, the decided preference in American English is to use that, while in British English, that and which are commonly used in both writing and speech.
 
Sometimes you can leave out that or which in a restrictive relative clause:
 
It reminded him of the house
that he used to live in.
It reminded him of the house
he used to live in.
[main clause]
[restrictive relative clause]
 
 
Nonrestrictive relative clause
 
A nonrestrictive relative clause (also called a nondefining relative clause) provides extra information that could be left out without affecting the meaning or structure of the sentence. Nonrestrictive relative clauses are normally introduced by which, whose, who, or whom, but never by that. You should place a comma in front of them:  
 
I decided to cook his favorite dish,
which is spaghetti bolognese.
[main clause]
[nonrestrictive relative clause]
 
If a nonrestrictive relative clause is in the middle of a sentence, you should put commas before and after it:
 
Bill,
who had fallen asleep on the sofa,
suddenly roused himself.
 
[nonrestrictive relative clause]
 
 

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