Get ahead with a $300 test prep scholarship | Enter to win by Tuesday 9/24 Learn more

Complex Sentences - terminology

Terms in this set (10)

A clause is a group of words that contains a verb (and usually other components too). A clause may form part of a sentence or it may be a complete sentence in itself. For example:

He was eating a bacon sandwich.
[clause]
She had a long career but she is remembered mainly for one early work.
[clause] [clause]
Main clause

Every sentence contains at least one main clause. A main clause may form part of a compound sentence or a complex sentence, but it also makes sense on its own, as in this example:

He was eating a bacon sandwich.
[main clause]


Compound sentences are made up of two or more main clauses linked by a conjunction such as and, but, or so, as in the following examples:

I love sport and I'm captain of the local football team.
[main clause] [conjunction] [main clause]

She was born in Spain but her mother is Polish.
[main clause] [conjunction] [main clause]

Subordinate clause

A subordinate clause depends on a main clause for its meaning. Together with a main clause, a subordinate clause forms part of a complex sentence. Here are two examples of sentences containing subordinate clauses:

After we had had lunch, we went back to work
[subordinate clause] [main clause]

I first saw her in Paris, where I lived in the early nineties.
[main clause] [subordinate clause]

There are two main types of subordinate clause: conditional clauses and relative clauses.

Conditional clause
A conditional clause is one that usually begins with if or unless and describes something that is possible or probable:

If it looks like rain, a shelter can be made out of a plastic sheet.
[conditional clause] [main clause]
I'll be home tomorrow unless the plane's delayed for hours.
[main clause] [conditional clause]
We use relative clauses to postmodify a noun - to make clear which person or thing we are talking about. In these clauses we can have the relative pronoun who, which, whose or that

as subject (see Clauses Sentences and Phrases)
Isn't that the woman who lives across the road from you?
The police said the accident that happened last night was unavoidable
The newspaper reported that the tiger which killed its keeper has been put down.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the subject of the clause.
We do not repeat the subject:

*The woman who [she] lives across the road...
*The tiger which [it] killed its keeper ...

as object of a clause (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)
Have you seen those people who we met on holiday?
You shouldn't believe everything that you read in the newspaper.
The house that we rented in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing which I enjoyed most about our holiday.

- Sometimes we use whom instead of who when the relative pronoun is the object:

Have you seen those people whom we met on holiday?

- When the relative pronoun is object of its clause we sometimes leave it out:

Have you seen those people we met on holiday?
You shouldn't believe everything you read in the newspaper.
The house we rented in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing I enjoyed most about our holiday.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

Have you seen those people who we met [them] on holiday?
The house that we rented [it] in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing I enjoyed [it] most about our holiday.

as object of a preposition. When the relative pronoun is the object of a preposition we usually put the preposition after the verb.:
You were talking to a woman >>> Who was the woman who you were talking to?
My parents live in that house >>> That's the house that my parents live in.
You were talking about a book. I haven't read it. >>> I haven't read the book which you were talking about.

- When the relative pronoun is the object of a preposition we usually leave it out:

Who was the woman you were talking to?
That's the house my parents live in.

- Sometimes we use whom instead of who:

Who was that woman whom you were talking about.

- When we use whom or which the preposition sometimes comes at the beginning of the clause:

I haven't read the book about which you were talking.

- We can use the possessive form, whose, in a relative clause:

I always forget that woman's name >>> That's the woman whose name I always forget.
I met a man whose brother works in Moscow.

3. Times and places
We also use when with times and where with places to make it clear which time or place we are talking about:

England won the world cup in 1996. It was the year when we got married.
I remember my twentieth birthday. It was the day when the tsunami happened.
Do you remember the place where we caught the train?
Stratford-upon-Avon is the town where Shakespeare was born.

... but we can leave out the word when:

England won the world cup in 1996. It was the year we got married.
I remember my twentieth birthday. It was the day the tsunami happened.
We use who, whom, whose, and which (but not that) in relative clauses to tell us more about a person or thing.

as subject (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)
My uncle, who was born in Hong Kong, lived most of his life overseas.
I have just read Orwell's 1984, which is one of the most frightening books ever written.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the subject of the clause.
We do not repeat the subject:

My uncle, who [he] was born in Hong Kong, lived most of his life overseas.
I have just read Orwell's 1984, which [it] is one of the most frightening books ever written.

as object (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)
We saw the latest Harry Potter film, which we really enjoyed.
My favourite actor is Marlon Brando, who I saw in "On the Waterfront".

- we can use whom instead of who as object:

My favourite actor was Marlon Brando, whom I saw in "On the Waterfront".

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

We saw the latest Harry Potter film, which we really enjoyed [it].
My favourite actor is Marlon Brando, who I saw [him] in "On the Waterfront".

as object of a clause :
He finally met Paul McCartney, whom he had always admired.
We are going back to Venice, which we first visited thirty years ago.

We can also use who as the object.

He finally met Paul McCartney, who he had always admired.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

He finally met Paul McCartney, whom he had always admired [him].
We are going back to Venice, which we first visited [it] thirty years ago.

as object of a preposition:
He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, who he had read about in the newspaper.
That's the programme which we listened to last night.

- We sometimes use whom instead of who:

He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, whom he had read about in the newspaper.

- The preposition sometimes comes in front of the relative pronoun whom or which:

He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, about whom he had read in the newspaper.
That's the programme to which we listened last night.
A. Noun clauses perform the same functions in sentences that nouns do:

A noun clause can be a subject of a verb:

What Billy did shocked his friends.
A noun clause can be an object of a verb:

Billy's friends didn't know that he couldn't swim.
A noun clause can be a subject complement:

Billy's mistake was that he refused to take lessons.
A noun clause can be an object of a preposition:

Mary is not responsible for what Billy did.
A noun clause (but not a noun) can be an adjective complement:

Everybody is sad that Billy drowned.
B. You can combine two independent clauses by changing one to a noun clause and using it in one of the ways listed above. The choice of the noun clause marker (see below) depends on the type of clause you are changing to a noun clause:

To change a statement to a noun clause use that:

I know + Billy made a mistake =
I know that Billy made a mistake.
To change a yes/no question to a noun clause, use if or whether:

George wonders + Does Fred know how to cook? =
George wonders if Fred knows how to cook.
To change a wh-question to a noun clause, use the wh-word:

I don't know + Where is George? =
I don't know where George is.
C. The subordinators in noun clauses are called noun clause markers. Here is a list of the noun clause markers:

that
if, whether
Wh-words: how, what, when, where, which, who, whom, whose, why
Wh-ever words: however, whatever, whenever, wherever, whichever, whoever, whomever
D. Except for that, noun clause markers cannot be omitted. Only that can be omitted, but it can be omitted only if it is not the first word in a sentence:

correct:

Billy's friends didn't know that he couldn't swim.
correct:

Billy's friends didn't know he couldn't swim.
correct:

Billy's mistake was that he refused to take lessons.
correct:

Billy's mistake was he refused to take lessons.
correct:

That Billy jumped off the pier surprised everyone.
not correct:

* Billy jumped off the pier surprised everyone.
E. Statement word order is always used in a noun clause, even if the main clause is a question:

not correct:

* Do you know what time is it? (Question word order: is it)
correct:

Do you know what time it is? (Statement word order: it is)
not correct:

* Everybody wondered where did Billy go. (Question word order: did Billy go)
correct:

Everybody wondered where Billy went. (Statement word order: Billy went)
F. Sequence of tenses in sentences containing noun clauses:

When the main verb (the verb in the independent clause) is present, the verb in the noun clause is:

future if its action/state is later
He thinks that the exam next week will be hard.
He thinks that the exam next week is going to be hard.
present if its action/state is at the same time
He thinks that Mary is taking the exam right now.
past if its action/state is earlier
He thinks that George took the exam yesterday.
When the main verb (the verb in the independent clause) is past, the verb in the noun clause is:

was/were going to or would + BASE if its action/state is later
He thought that the exam the following week was going to be hard.
He thought that the exam the following week would be hard.
past if its action/state is at the same time
He thought that Mary was taking the exam then.
past perfect if its action/state is earlier
He thought that George had taken the exam the day before.
If the action/state of the noun clause is still in the future (that is, after the writer has written the sentence), then a future verb can be used even if the main verb is past.

The astronaut said that people will live on other planets someday.
If the action/state of the noun clause continues in the present (that is, at the time the writer is writing the sentence) or if the noun clause expresses a general truth or fact, the simple present tense can be used even if the main verb is past.

We learned that English is not easy.
The boys knew that the sun rises in the east.
G. Here are some examples of sentences which contain one noun clause (underlined) and one independent clause:

Noun clauses as subjects of verbs:

That George learned how to swim is a miracle.
Whether Fred can get a better job is not certain.
What Mary said confused her parents.
However you learn to spell is OK with me.
Noun clauses as objects of verbs:

We didn't know that Billy would jump.
We didn't know Billy would jump.
Can you tell me if Fred is here?
I don't know where he is.
George eats whatever is on his plate.
Noun clauses as subject complements:

The truth is that Billy was not very smart.
The truth is Billy was not very smart.
The question is whether other boys will try the same thing.
The winner will be whoever runs fastest.
Noun clauses as objects of prepositions:

Billy didn't listen to what Mary said.
He wants to learn about whatever is interesting.
Noun clauses as adjective complements:

He is happy that he is learning English.
We are all afraid that the final exam will be difficult.
A that-clause is an example of a noun clause. It can be the subject or the object of the verb.

I believe that he is innocent.
Here the that-clause 'that he is innocent' is the object of the verb believe.
She said that she can speak three languages. (Object - that she can speak three languages)
I suspect that she eloped with her boyfriend.

The that-clause can also act as the subject of the verb.
Study the examples given below.

That she should forget me so quickly was rather a shock.
Here the that-clause 'that she should forget me so quickly' acts as the subject of the verb was.
That she delivered a marvelous performance pleased her parents. (Subject - that she delivered a marvelous performance)

Instead of 'that' we can also use the expressions 'the fact that', 'the belief that', 'the idea that' and 'the evidence that'.
The fact that she didn't recognize me was rather a shock.
The fact that she didn't understand English made it difficult for her to get a job.
The idea that the teacher should know everything is unacceptable.

If the subject is too long, it may be difficult for the reader to understand the sentence. To solve this problem, we usually use the introductory 'it'.
In this case, 'it' will occupy the position of the subject, but it is not the real subject. It merely signals that a noun-clause is to follow.
Examples are given below.

It surprised me that he was still in bed. (More natural than 'That he was still in bed surprised me.')
She made it clear that she wouldn't accept the proposal.
(NOT She made that she wouldn't accept the proposal clear.) (NOT She made clear that she wouldn't accept the proposal.)
Note that the introductory it can be used only with 'that'. It cannot be used with the expressions 'the idea that / the belief that / the fact that' etc.
;