How to Identify Clauses in a Sentence

Clauses are an integral part of grammar.

The best writers not only know how to identify essential elements of sentences, they also learn to shape their words into catchy, creative clauses. There are various types of clauses: dependent, independent, subordinate, adjective, noun and elliptical. They are found either at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence depending on the way they're being used. Each type of clause contains its own unique properties and can be identified in a few seconds by looking for certain characteristics within the text.

Look for a sentence that forms a complete thought and contains a verb and subject. "He ran down the street" is an independent clause. An independent clause must not include dependent marker words like "if," "after," "although," "because" and "when."

Read through a sentence in search of words like "as," "because," "until" and similar types of adverbs. "Until the sun went down" is an example of a dependent clause. Note that it does not form a complete thought; instead, it relies on another clause to complete the sentence. Combined with the independent clause from Step 1, it becomes: "He ran down the street until the sun went down."

Search for sentences that contain words like "after" or "once." These words help form subordinate, or adverb, clauses. "Once Tommy got home" is an example of a subordinate clause. Subordinate clauses answer questions about the independent clause. For example: "Once Tommy got home, he ran down the street." However, they are a type of dependent clause, so alone, they do not form a complete sentence.

Find the part of a sentence that begins with words like "that" or "where." An adjective clause example is, "where Tommy ran." Used in a sentence, it becomes: "This is the street where Tommy ran." The adjective clause modifies the noun or pronoun that proceeded it and also cannot stand alone.

Identify the part of the sentence that functions as a noun, and you'll find a noun clause. A noun clause stands in for the noun: "What Tommy did" forms a noun clause. Used in a sentence, it becomes: "What Tommy did shocked his friends."

Look for a sentence that clearly contains missing or implied words and events. "Tommy can run faster than his sister" is an example of a sentence containing an elliptical clause. The elliptical clause is "than his sister." The original sentence before using the elliptical clause is: "Tommy can run faster than his sister can run."

  • One sentence can contain multiple clauses as well as different types of clauses. For example, "Tommy ran down the street until he got tired" contains an independent clause ("Tommy ran down the street") and a subordinate clause ("until he got tired").

Stephen Lilley is a freelance writer who hopes to one day make a career writing for film and television. His articles have appeared on a variety of websites. Lilley holds a Bachelor of Arts in film and video production from the University of Toledo in Ohio.