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1.14: They’re So Dependent Distinguishing Dependent Clauses

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    We’ve learned that there are three kinds of dependent clauses: subordinate clauses, relative clauses, and nominal clauses.

    Sometimes nominal clauses superficially resemble subordinate or relative clauses. This chapter will help you get better at recognizing each kind.

    First, let’s review.

    Subordinate clauses are adverbial. They can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. When modifying verbs, they are usually moveable. They always begin with a subordinating conjunction:

    While I have been working, the phone has been ringing. The phone has been ringing while I have been working.

    Since my assistant left, my job has been harder. My job has been harder since my assistant left,

    Arthur is so generous that he never thinks of himself. She runs faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.

    They’re So Dependent

    Distinguishing Dependent Clauses

    Relative clauses are adjectival, following nouns and occasionally pronouns. They begin with relative pronouns or relative adverbs and follow the nouns they modify.

    Ed is the man who told me that story.
    The report that shocked me is summarized in the papers. It was he who called you earlier.
    We ate at the restaurant in Portland where we first met.

    Nominal clauses can fill noun positions just about anywhere in a sentence. Nominalizers or question words appear at the beginning of nominal clauses:

    I wonder if he will come to the party.
    I think that he will come.
    I wondered why you left early.
    We have learned how the mistake was made. Whoever speaks up will be heard.

    She can see whomever she likes.
    DISTINGUISHING NOMINAL CLAUSES FROM

    As we saw in the last chapter, nominal clauses are introduced by question words (who, what, where, when, why, how, and others) or by nominalizers (that, if, or whether):

    I know when they arrive.
    I know where they will arrive.
    I’ll decide whether we will go.
    I wonder if the weather will be pleasant.

    You can often recognize nominal clauses because they fill noun positions in their sentences: subjects, direct objects, predicate nominatives, appositives, and others. In most sentences that

    SUBORDINATE CLAUSES

    They’re So Dependent: Distinguishing Dependent Clauses | 149

    contain nominal clauses, you can replace each nominal with a noun without changing the grammar of the rest of the sentence:

    I know Bob.
    I know Milwaukee. I’ll decide the matter.

    The exception is with the word wonder:

    I wonder if the weather will be pleasant.

    Wonder can be a transitive verb with a direct object only if the direct object is a nominal clause.

    Here are some more examples:

    My question is what happened to Ralph? [a predicate nominative] What happened to Ralph is the question. [a subject]
    I have learned what happened to Ralph. [a direct object]

    Subordinate clauses, which are adverbial, may superficially resemble nominal clauses because some subordinating conjunctions look like question words and nominalizers:

    I always meet them when they arrive.
    I’ll meet them whether or not they are on time. I’ll meet them if they are on time.

    But it’s usually easy to distinguish subordinates from nominals. The subordinates—because they are adverbial—are often moveable; they can be shifted to the beginning or end of the sentence:

    When they arrive, I always meet them.
    Whether or not they are on time, I’ll meet them. If they are on time, I’ll meet them.

    Nominal clauses can never be shifted this way.
    Before we go further, let’s practice distinguishing these clauses.

    EXERCISES:

    Distinguish Nominals from Subordinates

    13a. In the following sentences, classify the underlined dependent clauses as either subordinate or nominal.

    1. I will see if we have any milk.
    2. I will go to the store if we are out of milk.
    3. Whether or not we are out of milk, I will go to the store. 4. I wonder whether we are out of milk.
    5. I go to the store when we are out of milk.
    6. I will know whether we are out of milk.
    7. I can’t understand how we could be out of milk.
    8. I don’t know why we are out of milk.
    9. Why we are out of milk is what I want to know.
    10. I told you that we would run out of milk.

    13b. In this next set, identify the dependent clauses and classify them as either subordinate or nominal.

    1. Go see if Jim is here.

    2. We will start dinner if Jim is here.
    3. If Jim is here, we can have dinner.
    4. If Jim is here is what I want to know.
    5. I need to know whether Jim has arrived.
    6. Whether or not he has arrived, we will now have dinner. 7. When Jim arrives, we will have dinner.
    8. I know when Jim will arrive.
    9. Please tell me how we can have dinner if Jim is not here.

    Distinguishing Nominal Clauses from Relative Clauses

    Relative clauses and nominal clauses may also resemble each other superficially.

    Relative clauses are adjectival. They follow the nouns they modify, and they are introduced by relative pronouns (who, whom, whose, that, which) or by relative adverbs (where, when):

    There’s the book that I need.
    This is the place where I lost my keys.

    In both cases, the relative pronoun or adverb has a grammatical role in its relative clause. The pronouns, of course, have noun functions, and the relative adverbs have adverb functions.

    Here are two small points that are sometimes helpful:

    1. In relative clauses introduced by the relative pronoun that, the pronoun can usually be replaced by which without a significant change in meaning:

    There’s the book that I need. There’s the book which I need.

    There’s the cat that scratched me. There’s the cat which scratched me.

    2. In relative clauses introduced by the relative pronoun who, the pronoun can usually be replaced by that without a change in meaning:

    There’s the man who helped me. There’s the man that helped me.

    There’s the woman whom I need to see. There’s the woman that I need to see.

    Nominal clauses may superficially resemble relative clauses because they sometimes begin with question words that are identical to relative pronouns (who, whom, whose, or which), or identical to the relative adverbs when and where.

    Nominal clauses may also begin with the nominalizer that, which is identical to the relative pronoun that.

    In distinguishing relative clauses from nominal clauses, remember these differences:

    1. In relative clauses, the relative pronoun always plays a grammatical role in its clause, and the relative clause always follows the noun it modifies.

    2. Nominal clauses will fill a noun position in the sentence; they do not always follow a noun, though they sometimes do.

    Also, in the that-if-whether clauses, the nominalizer plays no role at all in its clause, so the nominalizer that absolutely cannot be replaced by which:

    RIGHT: I know that the weather will be pleasant. IMPOSSIBLE: I know which the weather will be pleasant.

    RIGHT: I am sure that we have met before. IMPOSSIBLE: I am sure which we have met before.

    With these points in mind, let’s work with some sentences.

    EXERCISES:

    Distinguish Nominals from Relatives

    13c. Classify the underlined dependent clauses as either relative (adjectival) clauses or as nominal clauses:

    1. I know that she likes me.
    2. That she likes me surprises me.
    3. That is the class that I want.
    4. That is the class that challenges me.
    5. The people who like me are over there.
    6. I know who likes you.
    7. What fascinates me is calculus.
    8. We’ll learn why spring begins.
    9. The day when spring begins is next week.

    10. I know the place where I can enroll.

    13d. Identify the dependent clauses in these sentences and classify them as relative (adjectival) clauses or nominal clauses:

    1. I know who that is.
    2. I will take the book that is least expensive.

    3. There is the fellow whom I’ve met before.

    4. I know whom you spoke with.
    5. There is the woman who hired me.
    6. The dog that bit me is in that yard.
    7. Who steals my purse steals my gum.
    8. I have learned what the answer is.

    Distinguishing Subordinate Clauses from Relative Clauses

    Once again, subordinate clauses are adverbial, but they may superficially resemble relative clauses because some subordinating conjunctions (that; so . . . that; when; or where) look like the relative pronoun that or the relative adverbs when and where.

    We’ll remind you again about these differences:

    1. Subordinate clauses, being adverbial, are usually moveable when they modify verbs, but relative clauses are never moveable.

    2. Subordinate clauses modify verbs and, less often, adjectives or adverbs. Relative clauses modify nouns and pronouns.

    3. Subordinate clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions, while relative clauses begin with relative pronouns or relative adverbs.

    Here are some examples of subordinate clauses, using conjunctions that might be mistaken for relative pronouns or relative adverbs:

    I begin my garden when spring begins. (When spring begins, I begin my garden.)

    There is hope where there is life. (Where there is life, there is hope.)

    My mother is happy that I have chosen my major.
    (This subordinate clause, modifying happy, is not moveable.)

    Here are examples of relative clauses. The first two use the relative adverbs, and the third uses the relative pronoun that.

    Spring is the season when I begin gardening.
    There is the place where I always have my garden.
    My neighbors enjoy the vegetables that I raise in my garden.

    EXERCISES

    Distinguish Subordinates from Relatives

    13e. This time identify the dependent clauses in the following sentences and classify them as relative or as subordinate. Some sentences have two dependent clauses:

    1. Because it is late, tomorrow we will see the movie that you want to see.

    1. When we saw The Martian, we enjoyed the story about the space traveler who is marooned alone on a planet.
    2. We were quite surprised by the film that we saw last night.
    3. This is the theatre where we saw that film.
    4. Is this the time when the next film is shown?
    5. You should tell your friends when you see a good film.
    6. Where I come from, we have several good movie theatres.

    13f. Finally, here’s an exercise that brings together all the concepts in this chapter. Identify the dependent clauses in the following sentences and classify them as relative, as subordinate, or as nominal clauses:

    1. The place that we call home is Peoria.
    2. I must see if they are here.
    3. I know that they have arrived.
    4. I read an article about the accident that we saw yesterday. 5. We will see if the storm will hit.

    6. If the storm hits, we will be ready.
    7. I know the time when they will arrive.
    8. The town where I was born is very small.

    9. I wonder where he was born.
    10. I will go to the airport when he arrives.
    11. Whether we want to go or not, we must be at the airport. 12. I do not know whether he will be on the plane.


    1.14: They’re So Dependent Distinguishing Dependent Clauses is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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