The Differences Between Dependent and Independent Clauses

Written by Dan

Last updated

As teachers, you know the importance of mastering English grammar. A solid grasp of a language’s grammatical rules and conventions will help your students communicate effectively in writing.

That is why it is imperative to understand the critical differences between dependent and independent clauses—both serve distinct structural purposes within sentences, each with unique characteristics.

This article will examine these two clause types and how they affect sentence construction and comprehension. By arming yourself with this knowledge, you can ensure your students have an advantage when constructing organized compositions for their writing assignments.

Related: For more, check out our article on The Top 10 English Grammar Rules  here.

Dependent Clauses

A dependent clause, also known as a subordinate clause, is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb, but it does not express a complete thought.

A dependent clause cannot stand alone as a sentence because it relies on an independent clause to complete its meaning. Dependent clauses provide additional information about an action in a sentence.

Examples of dependent clauses include:

  • When I finish my work, we can go to the park. (dependent clause indicating when the action can take place)
  • Because he forgot his homework, he got in trouble with the teacher. (dependent clause indicating why the action took place)
  • Although it was raining, they decided to have a picnic. (dependent clause implying a contrast to the action)

Independent Clauses

An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought. An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence without relying on any other parts of a sentence.

Examples of independent clauses include:

  • She went to the store. (complete sentence)
  • He loves to play basketball. (complete sentence)
  • They are going on vacation. (complete sentence)

Combining Clauses

Dependent and independent clauses can be combined to form complex sentences. When combined, a dependent clause usually comes before the independent clause and is separated by a comma or other punctuation.

Examples of complex sentences with combined clauses include:

  • When I finish my work, we can go to the park. (dependent clause + independent clause)
  • Because he forgot his homework, he got in trouble with the teacher. (dependent clause + independent clause)
  • Although it was raining, they decided to have a picnic. (dependent clause + independent clause)

Children can improve their writing and communication skills by understanding the difference between dependent and independent clauses and how they are used in sentences.

Writing Skills

Understanding the difference between dependent and independent clauses can greatly aid writing skills for children. Children can improve their sentence structure by knowing how these clauses work, making writing more exciting and varied. Here’s how:

Creating Complex Sentences

One of the essential ways knowing about dependent and independent clauses can aid writing skills is that it allows children to create more complex sentences.

Simple sentences can become tiresome and may not convey complex ideas effectively.

Combining an independent clause with one or more dependent clauses can create a more complex sentence that gives ideas more clearly and engagingly.

Using Commas Correctly

By knowing the difference between dependent and independent clauses, children can also learn to use commas correctly.

Dependent clauses usually require a comma before or after the independent clause to separate it from the rest of the sentence.

Understanding this helps children punctuate their sentences and make their writing more straightforward.

Avoiding Sentence Fragments

Another vital skill of knowing dependent and independent clauses is avoiding sentence fragments.

Some sentences may look complete, but some components lack an independent clause. Identifying and using independent clauses helps children prevent this common mistake.

Improving Sentence Structure

By knowing the types of clauses and how they function, children can improve their sentence structure by adding detail and complexity to their writing.

This can make their writing more exciting and engaging to read.

By understanding the differences between dependent and independent clauses, children can improve their writing skills, make their ideas more precise and engaging, and avoid common writing errors.

Common Dependent Clause Introductions

Dependent clauses are typically introduced by words that express time, place, manner, or cause.

These introductory words act as subordinating conjunctions when they join dependent clauses to independent clauses.

Examples of these types of terms include “when,” “where,” “because,” and “although.” Some relative pronouns (i.e., who, whom, whose, which, and that) can also introduce dependent clauses.

Children can learn to construct more complex sentences and add detail to their writing by understanding how dependent clauses are presented.

Common Dependent Clauses in Literature

Dependent clauses are frequently used to create mood and tone within famous authors’ writing.

By including dependent clauses, authors can provide readers with additional information and give them an understanding of the author’s intent behind certain statements.

These clauses can also form complex sentences, often seen in books, plays and essays by renowned writers.

For example, William Shakespeare often wrote long sentences that included many dependent clauses to provide added context and detail to his work.

By learning how dependent clauses are used within the literature, children can develop greater creative and analytical skills when it comes to writing.

Examples of dependent clauses in William Shakespeare’s writing include:

  • “Though I look old, I am strong and lusty” from The Merry Wives of Windsor.
  • “Who, like a pall, most seeming to preserve her life” from Macbeth.
  • “Where all love is banished by tyrannous hate” from Henry VI Part 2.
  • “That never knows how to sink when it should climb” from Much Ado About Nothing.

Examples of independent clauses in William Shakespeare’s writing include:

  • “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts” from Macbeth.
  • The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit” by Henry V.
  • Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • If music is the food of love, play on” from Twelfth Night.
  • We are such stuff as dreams are made on” from The Tempest.

Teaching Dependent and Independent Clauses to Children

Teaching dependent and independent clauses to children can be challenging, but it is possible with patience and the right approach. Here are some tips for teaching children the difference between these two types of clauses:

  1. Start by explaining what a clause is in simple terms. A clause is a group of words containing both a subject and a verb. It can be either dependent or independent.
  2. Give examples of each type of clause using everyday language to make them more relatable to kids. For example, “He eats apples” is an independent clause while “because he likes them” is a dependent clause – it cannot stand alone as it relies on the other clause for context.
  3. Help children understand how clauses are used in sentences by providing examples from literature or stories they know. For instance, you could use Lewis Carroll’s classic phrase, “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the riverbank”, as an example of both dependent (“on the riverbank”) and independent (“Alice was beginning to get very tired”) clauses being used together in one sentence.
  4. Encourage children to practice writing their sentences using both types of clauses. They can start by picking one dependent or independent clause, then adding additional words or ideas after that to form complete sentences using two kinds of clauses together – such as “Although I am scared, I will try”.

By following these steps, you can enjoyably help your child learn about dependent and independent clauses, encouraging creativity and further exploration into sentence structure!

Examples of Dependent and Independent Clauses

Examples of Dependent Clauses:

  1. Although he was tired, he still managed to finish the race.
  2. When the sun goes down, it gets darker outside.
  3. If I knew the answer, I would tell you.
  4. Because I left my umbrella at home, I got soaked in the rain.
  5. Since mealtime is here, we should start cooking dinner.
  6. Until the snow melts, we won’t be able to go on our hike.
  7. Even though it’s cold outside, I’m still going for a walk.
  8. After she had eaten her lunch, she went back to work.
  9. Everyone will be happy if there is food on the table.
  10. While she was waiting for her train, she read a book.

Examples of Independent Clauses:

  1. The dog barked all night long.
  2. She decided to take a break from studying.
  3. He always wakes up early in the morning.
  4. They finished their project on time.
  5. We are going out for dinner tonight.
  6. She chose to ignore his comment.
  7. He drove away without saying goodbye.
  8. She opened the door cautiously.
  9. He packed his bag and headed out the door.
  10. The storm passed quickly, and all was quiet again.


Research into the differences between dependent and independent clauses is essential to core English language learning.

Knowing these different parts of a sentence can help students become better at grammar, syntax and structure—all crucial elements to writing better papers and improving overall communication.

In addition, English language learners must understand their roles since they often form the foundation of more significant sentences or thoughts.

With a clear understanding of dependent versus independent clauses, many complex conversations are simplified by breaking them down into their parts.

So take your time assessing what each clause does, how it functions, and how each varies from another—it may help you break through language barriers when you’re stumped.

To read more about the differences between dependent and independent clauses, check out our other articles!


1. What is an independent clause? Can you give me an example?

Let’s dive right in! An independent clause is a group of words that contains both a subject and a verb, and it can stand alone as a complete sentence. For example, “She reads books.” Here, ‘she’ is the subject, ‘reads’ is the verb, and the statement can stand alone as a full thought.

2. How does a dependent clause differ from an independent clause?

Great question! A dependent clause also has a subject and a verb, but unlike an independent clause, it cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. It needs to be connected to an independent clause to make sense. For instance, “Because she loves stories” is a dependent clause. It leaves us hanging, doesn’t it? We’re left wondering, “What happens because she loves stories?”

3. Can you provide examples to illustrate this difference?

Absolutely, examples always help! Consider the sentence, “She reads books because she loves stories.” Here, “She reads books” is an independent clause—it can stand on its own. “Because she loves stories,” on the other hand, is a dependent clause—it doesn’t make sense by itself.

4. How can I identify whether a clause is dependent or independent?

That’s a vital skill in writing! Look for two things: a subject and a verb. If they’re present, you have a clause. Now, ask yourself: Does this clause express a complete thought? Can it stand alone as a sentence? If yes, it’s independent. If no, it’s dependent.

5. Why is understanding the difference between dependent and independent clauses important?

Understanding this difference is key to constructing clear, effective sentences. It helps you vary your sentence structure, making your writing more engaging and readable. Plus, it’s crucial for avoiding sentence fragments and run-ons—common grammar pitfalls that can confuse your readers.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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