What is a subordinate clause?
A subordinate clause helps to give extra information about a main clause in a sentence.
Importantly, we cannot have a subordinate clause on its own because it is not a complete sentence.
A subordinate clause needs a main clause to go with it to form a sentence and to make sense.
A subordinate clause can also be called a dependent clause.
I can finally buy a new guitar if I save up enough money.
‘If I save up enough money’ is a subordinate clause that needs the main clause ‘I can finally buy a new guitar’ to make sense.
It relies on being put together with the main clause, and it cannot stand on its own.
Main clauses compared to subordinate clauses
Main clauses can be used on their own to form a sentence.
They can be connected to each other by using co-ordinating conjunctions, such as ‘and’, ‘or’ and ‘but’.
Remember we can use FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So) to help to remember co-ordinating conjunctions.
I love to watch Harry Potter films, but I have not read all of the books.
Both of these clauses make sense on their own.
‘I love to watch Harry Potter films’ is a main clause and so is ‘I have not read all of the books.’
These two main clauses are joined by the coordinating conjunction ‘but’.
Subordinate clauses, on the other hand, must be paired with a main clause to make sense!
Whereas main clauses make sense on their own, subordinate clauses do not and so they need to partner up with a main clause.
We won’t arrive on time unless the train hurries up.
‘Unless the train hurries up’ is a subordinate clause because it needs a main clause to form a full sentence. It does not make sense alone.
When it is paired with the main clause ‘we won’t arrive on time’, the full sentence makes sense.
Subordinate clauses - more examples
The squirrel climbed up into the tree before it ate a nut.
‘Before’ is a subordinating conjunction which allows us to form the subordinate clause ‘before it ate a nut’.
We know that this is a subordinate clause because ‘before it ate a nut’ does not make sense completely on its own.
The subordinate clause of ‘before it ate a nut’ depends on the main clause of ‘the squirrel climbed up into tree’ to make sense!
Even though Dave had climbed Mount Everest, he still wanted to take on new challenges.
The subordinate clause in this sentence is ‘even though Dave had climbed Mount Everest.’
We need the main clause of ‘he still wanted to take on new challenges’ to form a full sentence that expresses a complete idea.
As long as
I’ll let you have another slice of cake as long as you tidy your room!
‘As long as’ is the subordinating conjunction that introduces the subordinate clause ‘as long as you tidy your room.’
‘As long as you tidy your room’ depends on the main clause ‘I’ll let you have another slice of cake’.
Subordinate clauses in the 11+ exams
It is important to understand and to be able to use subordinate clauses in the 11+ exams.
Questions on subordinate clauses can come up in English tests.
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