What is a subordinate clause?

The biggest words can lead to the simplest of sentences. Take a deep breath and dive into the wonderful world of subordinate clauses!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
December 4, 2023

What is a subordinate clause?

The biggest words can lead to the simplest of sentences. Take a deep breath and dive into the wonderful world of subordinate clauses!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
Dec 4, 2023

What is a subordinate clause?

The biggest words can lead to the simplest of sentences. Take a deep breath and dive into the wonderful world of subordinate clauses!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
Dec 4, 2023

Key takeaways

  • There are some big words here: subordinate clause, main clause and subordinating conjunction
  • Read the whole page through once and then go back and study the long words. This will make it sink into your brain easier!
  • When you practice writing your own examples, try reading them out loud

Today we’re going to learn all about creating sentences in two parts.

One part is the main event, the other adds information to the sentence to tell us more about the main event. This is called a subordinate clause.

They’re very simple to use, and with some practice, you’ll be creating amazing sentences to wow your family and friends!

What is a subordinate clause?

So, what exactly is a subordinate clause? 

To put it simply, a subordinate clause is a part of a sentence. A subordinate clause doesn’t make sense on its own in a sentence, but adds more detail to the sentence itself.

Let’s break it down.

Full sentence:

‘If I can find the cat food, I can feed the cat’

Subordinate clause:

‘If I can find the cat food’

…this sentence doesn’t make sense on its own. ‘If I can…’ then what?

However, if we add to it…

‘If I can find the cat food, I can feed the cat’

Ah! That makes perfect sense!

A subordinate clause can come before the comma in a sentence or afterwards; sometimes, the sentence might not have a comma.

So how do we spot a subordinate clause?

Try these three things when you think you see a subordinate clause:

  1. Does it add more meaning to the ‘main event’ of the sentence?
  2. Does it not make sense on its own?
  3. Does it start with a subordinating conjunction?

Subordinating conjunction:

A subordinate clause will always show the reader that there’s more information to learn in the sentence than just in that short part by using one word.

These words are called subordinating conjunctions and are easy to see once you start writing the sentences yourself.

Remember, subordinate clauses always start with a subordinating conjunction.

‘If I can find the cat food, I can feed the cat’

‘If’ is an example of a subordinate conjunction.

Some other examples of subordinating conjunctions are: if, since, as, when, although, while, after, before, until, because, unless, whereas.

The subordinating conjunction can also be a small phrase: as soon as, provided that, even though.

These are used to connect the subordinate clause to the main clause, or main part of the sentence.

For more English learning, be sure to check out our app for English help!

Explore subordinate clauses with DoodleEnglish

DoodleEnglish is an interactive English app that’s filled with thousands of questions and games covering reading, grammar, spelling and more!

Created by our team of teachers, it creates each child a personalised work programme tailored to their needs, boosting their confidence a little every day. Try it free today!

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Subordinate clause meaning

A subordinate clause relies on the other part of the sentence to give it full meaning. This is why we sometimes call it the dependent clause.

The main clause is sometimes called the independent clause as it can stand on its own. When we have an independent and dependent clause together in one sentence, it gives more information to the reader.

Subordinate clause examples

Here are some subordinate clause examples:

  • If you win the cross-country, I will give you a surprise.
  • Since it is raining, we will play a board game.
  • When you have finished lunch, you can have dessert.
  • I went to sleep, before my bedtime.
  • I gave Toby a present, because it was his birthday.

Can you see:

  1. The subordinate clauses?
  2. The subordinating conjunctions? (if, when, because etc…)

Why do we use subordinate clauses?

There are two parts to these sentences, the main clause and subordinate clause.

A main clause makes sense on its own and can stand alone as a sentence.

A main clause doesn’t need anything else to be added to it for it to be understood.

Examples of main clauses:

  • ‘My dog was asleep in her bed’
  • ‘I could see a rainbow’
  • ‘These seagulls are loud’


A subordinate clause adds more information to the main clause but doesn’t make sense on its own.

Can you see how adding a subordinate clause paints a bigger picture of the situation?

  • ‘When I got home, my dog was asleep in her bed’
  • ‘I could see a rainbow, until it stopped raining’
  • ‘Could I get some earplugs, because these seagulls are loud?’

Can you try and make up some sentences with subordinate clauses of your own? Use the examples above to help you!

When do children learn about subordinate clauses?

Children start to learn about subordinate clauses in Year 2.

They learn about subordinate clauses so that they can combine two ideas in a single sentence, or add more information to a main point.

It’s important that they can recognise subordinate clauses when they read so that they can start to build on them in their own writing.

Summary

Wow! Big well done for reading all of that. You’ve learned how to split an informative sentence into two parts with a joining word in the middle. Plus, you have some super big words to tell everyone all about! 

If you’re ever unsure, come back and read this guide again – everyone needs a reminder sometimes, even grownups!

Try DoodleEnglish for free!

Lesson credits

Jessica Milner

Jessica Milner

This decade is a super exciting one for EdTech, and I'm lucky enough to be right in the middle of it. I've used green screens as an English teacher in Vietnam, written children’s books that wow and motivate, been the head scriptwriter for a popular children's EdTech app and been an all-dancing-all-singing online teacher! I believe in making education inviting and accessible to all. My ethos is: we're all different and we all learn differently, so why not lay out a smorgasbord of educational treats and dig in!

Jessica Milner

Jessica Milner

This decade is a super exciting one for EdTech, and I'm lucky enough to be right in the middle of it. I've used green screens as an English teacher in Vietnam, written children’s books that wow and motivate, been the head scriptwriter for a popular children's EdTech app and been an all-dancing-all-singing online teacher! I believe in making education inviting and accessible to all. My ethos is: we're all different and we all learn differently, so why not lay out a smorgasbord of educational treats and dig in!

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