What is a main clause?
A clause is a phrase that includes a verb. This verb is usually the key word of the phrase.
The other words in the phrase add meaning to the verb.
When a clause makes sense on its own as a sentence, we call this a main clause.
The following sentences contain one main clause each:
The cat came back inside the kitchen. It ate its lunch.
Peter baked some chocolate brownies. His sister ate them all before he could have one.
How are main clauses joined?
Main clauses can be joined together used co-ordinating conjunctions such as ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘so’ and ‘but’.
A great way to remember the co-ordinating conjunctions by using the mnemonic FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So)!
Let’s use the sentences from the section above and add in co-ordinating conjunctions.
The cat came back inside the kitchen and it ate its lunch.
‘And’ is a co-ordinating conjunction that connects the two main clauses together.
Peter baked some chocolate brownies, but his sister ate them all before he could have one.
‘But’ is a co-ordinating conjunction that connects these two main clauses together.
How is a main clause different from a subordinate clause?
As we have just learnt, a main clause can exist on its own.
On the other hand, subordinate clauses rely on a main clause and cannot be used on their own.
A subordinate clause is introduced by subordinating conjunction, such as:
We can take the examples from earlier and create subordinate clauses within these sentences.
The cat came back inside the kitchen before it ate its lunch.
‘Before’ is a subordinating conjunction which allows us to form the subordinate clause ‘before it ate its lunch’.
We know that this is a subordinate clause because ‘before it ate its lunch’ does not make sense completely on its own.
The subordinate clause of ‘before it ate its lunch’ depends on the main clause of ‘the cat came back inside the kitchen’ to make sense!
Let’s see if the second example from earlier can be rewritten with a subordinate clause.
Peter baked some chocolate brownies although his sister ate them all before he could have one.
Main & subordinate clauses in the 11+ exams
It is important to understand and to be able to use main and subordinate clauses in the 11+ exams.
Questions on clauses can often come up in English tests.
Try out our expert 11+ English practice papers in our shop!