Skip to main content
Library homepage
Humanities LibreTexts

2.4: Complex Sentences - Joining Clauses with Subordination

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Subordination joins two sentences with related ideas by combining them into an independent clause (a complete sentence) and a dependent clause (a construction that relies on the independent clause, also called the main clause, to complete its meaning). While coordination allows a writer to give equal weight to the two ideas that are being combined, subordination enables a writer to emphasize one idea over the other. Take a look at the following sentences:

    Original sentences: Tracy stopped to help the injured man. She would be late for work.

    To illustrate that these two ideas are related, we can rewrite them as a single sentence using the subordinating conjunction even though.

    Revised sentence: Even though Tracy would be late for work, she stopped to help the injured man.

    In the revised version, we now have an independent clause (she stopped to help the injured man) that stands as a complete sentence, and a dependent clause (even though Tracy would be late for work) that is subordinate to the main clause. Notice that the revised sentence emphasizes the fact that Tracy stopped to help the injured man, rather than the fact that she would be late for work. We could also write the sentence this way:

    Revised sentence: Tracy stopped to help the injured man even though she would be late for work.

    The meaning remains the same in both sentences, with the subordinating conjunction even though introducing the dependent clause.


    To punctuate sentences correctly, look at the position of the main clause and the subordinate clause. If a subordinate clause precedes the main clause, use a comma. If the subordinate clause follows the main clause, no punctuation is required. Exception: subordinate clauses that begin with conjunctions that indicate concession (see table below) are sometimes preceded by a comma, even when they follow the main clause.

    Subordinating Conjunctions and Adverb Clauses

    A subordinating conjunction is a word that joins a subordinate (dependent) clause to a main (independent) clause. Since the resulting subordinate clause modifies the verb in the main clause, the subordinate unit is called an adverb clause.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Subordinating conjunction examples


    Subordinating Conjunction



    although, while, though, whereas, even though

    Sarah completed her report even though she had to stay late to get it done.


    if, unless, until

    Until we know what is causing the problem, we will not be able to fix it.

    Manner (used to make a comparison)

    as if, as though

    The students in the conference room stopped talking at once, as though they had been stunned into silence.


    where, wherever

    Where the trail split, our guide stopped, unsure of which route to take.


    because, since, so that, in order that

    Because the air conditioning was turned up so high, everyone in the office wore sweaters.


    after, before, while, once, when, as, as soon as

    After the meeting had finished, we all went to lunch.


    Combine each sentence pair into a single sentence using a subordinating conjunction:

    1. A snow storm disrupted traffic all over the east coast. There will be long delivery delays this week.

    2. My neighbor had his television volume turned up too high. I banged on his door and asked him to keep the noise down.

    3. Jessica prepared the potato salad and the sautéed vegetables. Ashley marinated the chicken.

    4. Romeo poisons himself. Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead and stabs herself with a dagger.

    Key Takeaways

    • Coordination and subordination join two sentences with related ideas.
    • Coordination joins sentences with related and equal ideas, whereas subordination joins sentences with related but unequal ideas.
    • Sentences can be coordinated using either a coordinating conjunction and a comma or a conjunctive adverb and a semicolon.
    • Subordinate adverb clauses are made by the use of a subordinating conjunction.
    • In a sentence with an adverb clause, a comma is generally used to separate the main clause from the dependent clause if the dependent clause is placed at the beginning of the sentence.

    Relative Pronouns and Adjective Clauses

    While an adverb clause modifies the verb in an independent clause, an adjective clause modifies a noun. The modified noun may function in the sentence in any number of ways. It may be a subject, complement, direct object, or the object of a preposition.

    Consider the following:

    Original Sentences: Jill and her friends camped near a silver mine. The mine had been abandoned for fifty years.

    The second sentence modifies or tells about the silver mine, which is the object of a preposition (near) in the first sentence. We can turn the second sentence into a subordinate adjective clause and attach it to the first sentence.

    Combined Sentences: Jill and her friends camped near a silver mine that had been abandoned for fifty years.

    The adjective clause is highlighted in yellow. That replaces the original subject of the second sentence (The mine) to form a subordinate adjective clause, and the clause is then attached to the first sentence, which becomes the main clause. The relative pronoun in this example is that. Like subordinating conjunctions, relative pronouns are used to make a clause dependent (or subordinate). But unlike subordinating conjunctions, relative pronouns take the place of another word, just as other pronouns do. And unlike adverb clauses, which can be located either before or after a main clause, an adjective clause must be located immediately after the noun that it modifies. If this rule is not followed, the adjective clause becomes a misplaced modifier. The following words can all function as relative pronouns: who, whom, whose, which, that, when, where.

    Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Adjective Clauses

    An adjective clause is restrictive if it is essential for identifying (restricting) the noun that it modifies. A nonrestrictive clause may be important to the sentence, but it is not essential for identifying the noun. This distinction is important because nonrestrictive clauses must be set off from the main clause with commas. Consider these examples:

    • My brother Frank, who ran cross country in high school, beat everybody in the foot race.
    • A young man who ran cross country in high school beat everybody in the foot race.

    Both these sentences contain the same adjective clause (who ran cross country in high school), but in the first example the clause modifies a subject identified with a proper noun (Frank) and the designation my brother. Consequently, the adjective clause is not essential to the identification of the subject. It is nonrestrictive and set off with two commas, one before the clause and one after it.

    In the second example, the subject is simply “A young man.” Consequently, the adjective clause is necessary to the identification of who this particular young man is. The clause is restrictive and is not set off with commas.

    The table below illustrates relative pronouns and how they function to create adjective clauses.

    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\): Relative pronouns

    Function of Relative Pronoun

    Relative Pronoun

    Example (with adjective clause highlighted)

    Takes the place of a noun referring to people.


    My roommate, who is from Brazil, is majoring in physics.

    Takes the place of a direct object referring to people.


    The band hired Slim Swayze, whom the lead singer had known in Ogden, to play the harmonica.


    Whom is generally used only in formal writing. Who is often used in its place in colloquial English. When whom is used in a restrictive clause, it may be deleted from the sentence. Example: The band leader hired a musician whom he had known in Ogden to play the harmonica.

    Takes the place of a noun referring to things. Generally used in nonrestrictive clauses.


    The Old Man and the Sea, which I read last year, tells the story of a fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico

    Takes the place of a noun referring to people or things. Used only in restrictive clauses.


    The tourist blundered down a street that seemed to lead nowhere. Note: When that is used to replace a direct object, it may be deleted from the sentence. Example: The tacos that I ate were delicious.

    Creates a clause that modifies a particular time.


    Audrey and I recalled the time when we played together on the volleyball team.

    Creates a clause that modifies a particular place.


    Joe spent spring break in North Carolina, where his cousins live.

    Indicates a condition of ownership between the modified noun and the subject of the adjective clause.


    An elderly woman whose car had been stolen sat on a bench in the police station.


    Use coordination and/or subordination to combine each set of simple sentences into a single sentence.

    1. Heroin is an extremely addictive drug. Thousands of heroin addicts die each year.
    2. Shakespeare’s writing is still relevant today. He wrote about timeless themes. These themes include love, hate, jealousy, death, and destiny.
    3. Gay marriage was first legal in the U.S in the six states of Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Other states followed their example.
    4. Prewriting is a vital stage of the writing process. Prewriting helps you organize your ideas. Types of prewriting include outlining, brainstorming, and idea mapping.
    5. Mitch Bancroft is a famous writer. He also serves as a governor on the local school board. Mitch’s two children attend the school.

    Contributors and Attributions

    2.4: Complex Sentences - Joining Clauses with Subordination is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

    • Was this article helpful?