Understanding The Basic Concept Of Clause


The essence of this article is to make you all know the basics, that is, I won’t be digging deep.


In the grammatical hierarchy, we have the morpheme at the bottom and the sentence at the top: morpheme-word-phrase-clause-sentence.

At this stage, it is expected that you all should have had a solid knowledge of the word classes and phrases because this knowledge will prove very important as regards your assimilation of clauses.

As expected, the first thing should be a definition or definitions of the concept. Luckily for us, the clause has several definitions that can easily help us understand what it entails. I will offer about six definitions.

1. A clause is a group of words with a finite verb.

2. A clause is a group of words that may or may not stand on its own.

3. A clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb, and functions as a noun, adjective or adverb.

4. Murphy (1998): “A clause is a group of words which forms a part of a sentence and contains a subject and a predicate.”

5. In _Catch Up_, the clause is described as a group of words containing a subject and a predicate.

6. A clause can also be defined, in a broader sense, as a group of words with subject or no subject, with finite or non-finite verbs, which may or may not express a complete thought or idea (Sodiq, 2020).

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When you’re asked to define the clause in an exam, remember not to number as I have done.

Considering the definitions stated above, we can easily pick out some things to note about a clause.

1. The presence of a finite verb, e.g., I *love* Mosun.

It is expected at this stage that the concept of finite and non-finite verbs should not be alien to you all. As a quick reminder, a verb is finite when:

A. it shows tense (present, past, present progressive, past progressive, etc.)

The boy *sings* well. (Third-person singular)

The boys *sing* well. (Base form – plural present tense)

The boy *is singing* well. (Present progressive)

The boy *was singing* well. (Past progressive)

The boy *sang* well. (Past tense)

B. it agrees with the subject in number or person, that is, when the subject is singular and the verb is also singular or when the subject is plural and the verb is likewise plural, it can be said that there is a subject-verb agreement; therefore, such verb is finite. Consider the examples below:

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Example 1: Dozie *prays* every day. (Dozie – singular subject + prays – singular verb)

*Remember that a verb is singular when ‘-s’ is added to its base form — fights, runs, has, was, does, jumps, etc.

Example 2: They *pray* every day. (They – plural subject + pray – plural verb).

A finite verb is one that can change when there is a change in terms of number as regards the subject. For example, when *Dozie* was changed to *They*, the verb changed from *prays* to *pray*.

*Note that the auxiliary verbs are finite.*

Therefore, a finite verb is one of the prerequisites in a clause structure. Without such finite verb, the expression becomes a phrase.

2. A clause may or may not stand on its own. This definition simply points out the two types of clause we have, namely: main clause and subordinate clause. These clauses may be referred to as independent and dependent. The main clause can also be called principal or alpha clause. As a rule, the main clause can stand on its own and make complete meaning, e.g

(i) The boy is handsome

(ii) Kaylee did the job

Main clauses are like simple sentences.

On the other hand, the dependent or subordinate clause is one that cannot stand on its own, that is, the meaning is not complete until it is attached to a main clause. Some examples are below:

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(i) While he was eating

(ii) When I saw Daniel

(iii) Because I was angry

To realise the complete meaning of the expressions, you should add a main clause.

As a punctuation etiquette, you are expected to divide the subordinate clause from the main clause with a comma if the subordinate clause comes first. Consider these examples:

(i) Because she ate my food, I slapped her. (Subordinate clause + main clause)

(ii) I slapped her because she ate my food. (Main clause + subordinate clause)


1. A main clause can stand on its own. It can be seen as a simple sentence.

2. A main or subordinate clause may begin the sentence.

3. Starting the sentence with the subordinate clause is seen as a symbol of informality.

4. The subordinate clause is usually introduced by a subordinator.

Worthy of mention is that this topic will focus on the dependent clauses — nominal clause, adjectival clause, adverbial clause and a few others. Note that with regard to function, clauses function as nouns, adjectives and adverbs.


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