What is an independent clause?

Strengthen your sentence-building skills with our helpful guide! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

February 20, 2024

What is an independent clause?

Strengthen your sentence-building skills with our helpful guide! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

Feb 20, 2024

What is an independent clause?

Strengthen your sentence-building skills with our helpful guide! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

Feb 20, 2024

Key takeaways

  • Keep it simple – An independent clause has both a subject and a verb. It tells someone’s complete thought and can stand on its own as a sentence.
  • If it depends on more information, it’s dependent – A dependent clause isn’t a complete thought. 
  • If you have multiple independent clauses, break them up with a comma – If you have two independent clauses in a sentence, use a comma to avoid a run-on.

Learning the differences between independent clauses and dependent clauses is a great way to strengthen your writing skills — whether you’re a student or an adult learner. Here’s everything you need to know about independent clauses and dependent clauses, and the best ways to differentiate between them. We’re here to help! 

What is an independent clause?

An independent clause is a string of words that have both a subject and a verb. It’s a sentence that expresses a complete thought, relying on no other information for it to make sense.

Examples of an independent clause

Looking for examples of independent clauses? We’ve got you covered. Here are a few that you likely mimic without even thinking about it! 

  • Michael ate blueberry pie on Sunday. 
  • Joseph hugged Christina.
  • Janessa studied for her mathematics exam at the coffee shop. 
  • Denise met a friend to chat at the local cafe. 
  • Barry reads A Book of Poetry, Vol. 3 at least once a year.

Independent clause vs. dependent clause

You can determine if a group of words is an independent or a dependent clause by asking yourself one question: Does the content depend on additional information? 

Generally speaking, you won’t have to ask any other questions with an independent clause. It makes sense on its own, without any additional information. In contrast, a dependent clause often leaves you wondering “why?” or “what else is there in this story?” 

Another hint to look out for is the presence of a subordinating conjunction at the start of the dependent clause. These can include words like: 

  • Though 
  • Until 
  • Although
  • After
  • As
  • Before
  • Because
  • In order to 
  • Since 
  • Whether 
  • While

Identifying independent and dependent clauses

Now that we know what to look for when we’re identifying what type of clause a sentence is, let’s put it into practise. Below, we’ve listed an example of a dependent clause, followed by an example of an independent clause — explaining why each option is classified the way that it is. 

Not sure where to start when it comes to determining the different types of sentences? Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. Practise makes perfect, so these spotting practises will help you quickly!

  • When John dances. / When John dances, he likes to sing too. 
    • Dependent clause: “When John dances…” 
    • Independent clause: “…he likes to sing, too.” 
    • Explanation: We know that the first line is a dependent clause, because it leaves the person wondering if there’s more to the story. It is clearly not a complete thought. However, by using a comma, we signal the beginning of an independent clause — providing context, and following the subject/predicate mandate for independent clauses. 
  • Even though it’s far away. / Even though it’s far away, we should host our wedding in the place we first met. 
    • Dependent clause: “Even though it’s far away.” 
    • Independent clause: “Let’s host our wedding where we first met.” 
    • Explanation: Not all dependent clauses require subordinating conjunctions. All adjectival clauses (or, clauses that modify nouns, which would be ‘our wedding’ in this case) are categorised as dependent clauses on their own. By providing context and a subject in the simple sentence above, we transform the dependent clause to the independent clause. 
  • Before we eat dinner. / Before we eat dinner, let’s play a game.
    • Dependent clause: “Before we eat dinner.” 
    • Independent clause: “Before we eat dinner, let’s play a game.” 
    • Explain why: We can tell that the dependent clause is dependent because it begins with “before,” — which is a dependent marker word — and does not have any other connected dependent or independent clauses. The independent clause contains the necessary subject and predicate, and is connected to the dependent clause via a comma to avoid a run-on sentence.

What to avoid: Comma splices & run-on sentences explained

When you’re practising with independent and dependent clauses, it’s important to remember to avoid two primary areas of error: Comma splices and run-on sentences. 

A comma splice is different from a run-on sentence. A splice happens when people use a comma to tie together two independent clauses. 

Example: “He’s so furry, he’s a very fluffy dog.” 

A run-on, however, is a sentence that brings two independent clauses together without any sort of conjunctions or punctuation. 

Example: “Max enjoys drinking sodas on the patio therefore he must enjoy drinking tea on the patio too.” 

How to combine independent clauses

Students can connect independent clauses using two primary methods: a coordinating conjunction (with commas), and colons (or semicolons!) Here’s what you need to know about using each in confidence. 

Coordinating conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions are best known as FANBOYS, a fun acronym to help you remember each of the seven. FANBOYS stands for “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so,” when placed in order, per Grammarly. 

When using a coordinating conjunction to join independent clauses, simply pick one of the FANBOYS and include a comma to show a relationship between the two independent clauses, creating a complete sentence (better known as a compound sentence). This keeps your work free of fragments and as clear as possible. 

Example: “The woman wanted coffee, but she couldn’t choose which milk she wanted.” 

Coordinated conjunctions are most commonly seen in informal writing, in dialogue, or if you wish to put equal emphasis on the pieces that you’re connecting.

Colon or semicolon

Semicolons and colons are similar, but not quite the same. Semicolons are usually used to show a very close relationship between two independent clauses, and can be used with a transition word (followed by a comma). They are generally considered to be more formal methods of punctuation, and generally aren’t used in casual reference or writing. Transition words are required using this method if your secondary clause starts with a conjunctive adverb. 

Colons are generally used to tie two independent clauses together, expanding on the first independent clause. 

Example of semicolon (with transition word): Conor and Christina ate ice cream all the time; however, Conor always ate more. 

Example of semicolon (without transition word): Tim and Rose like soccer; it’s always fun to play outside. 

Example of colon: Anna had one thing to say: She loved video games the most.

How to combine an independent and a dependent clause

You might choose to combine both clause types for many different reasons — the most common one being to create complex, well-rounded sentences. 

Combining an independent clause with a dependent clause is simple. The process is governed by two primary rules: 

  1. Separate the clauses with a comma if the dependent clause comes first AND is led by a subordinating conjunction. 
    • Example: Since I was hungry, I ate some chicken nuggets. 
  2. If the dependent clause comes after the independent clause, don’t use a comma in the sentence at all. 
    • Example: I ate chicken nuggets because I was hungry. 

Not sure which words to use to connect an independent and a dependent clause? Just remember: I SAW A WABUB. This is a fun acronym that’s represented by the words “if,” “since,” “as,” “when,””although,” “while,” “after,” “before,” “until,” and “because.” 

Explore independent clauses with DoodleEnglish

DoodleEnglish is an app that’s filled with thousands of fun, interactive exercises covering grammar, punctuation, spelling and more!

Designed by teachers, it creates each child a unique work programme tailored to their needs, boosting their confidence and skills in English. Try it for free today!

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FAQs about independent clauses

People use “main clause” and “independent clause” synonymously. There are no differences between terms. 

By definition, a complex sentence has a single independent clause and can have one or multiple dependent clauses. 

You can choose to combine two independent clauses using four primary methods: A comma and coordinating conjunction comma, a semicolon, a colon, and a semicolon with a transition word. 

An independent clause can stand on its own. A dependent clause is known as a “fragment,” and generally doesn’t provide enough information to make sense. 

Screenshot 2023-10-13 at 16.29.14

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