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9.2: Syntax (Part 2)

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    Complex Sentences: Joining Clauses with Subordination

    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.

    Function Subordinating Conjunction Example
    Concession although, while, though, whereas, even though Sarah completed her report even though she had to stay late to get it done.
    Condition 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.
    Place where, wherever Where the trail split, our guide stopped, unsure of which route to take.
    Reason because, since, so that, in order that Because the air conditioning was turned up so high, everyone in the office wore sweaters.
    Time after, before, while, once, when, as, as soon as After the meeting had finished, we all went to lunch.
    Exercise 3

    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 (see Misplaced Modifiers). 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 (see comma use).

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

    Function of Relative Pronoun Relative Pronoun Example (with adjective clause highlighted)
    Takes the place of a noun referring to people. who My roommate, who is from Brazil, is majoring in physics
    Takes the place of a direct object referring to people. whom The band hired Slim Swayze, whom the lead singer had known in Ogden, to play the harmonica. Notes: 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. which 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. that 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. when Audrey and I recalled the time when we played together on the volleyball team.
    Creates a clause that modifies a particular place where 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. whose An elderly woman whose car had been stolen sat on a bench in the police station.
    Exercise 4

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

    1. 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.

    Common Errors: Fragments and Run-ons


    A fragment occurs when a group of words that does not form a complete sentence is punctuated as though it is a complete sentence. Here are three common types of fragments and ways to correct them:

    The fragment may lack a predicate because the verb is incomplete:

    Fragment: The runners staggering in the 100-degree heat.

    Complete sentence: The runners were staggering in the 100-degree heat.


    The present participle staggering is not a complete verb without the helping verb were. See Progressive Verb Tenses.

    The fragment may be a dependent (subordinate) clause that needs to be attached to an independent clause:

    Fragment: Unless she could earn the money for tuition.

    Complete sentence: Unless she could earn the money for tuition, she would have to drop out of school.


    The fragment here is an adverb clause and does not express a complete thought unless it is attached to an independent clause. See Complex Sentences.

    Fragment: Which was the best thing to do.

    Complete sentence: My sister decided to sell the house, which was the best thing to do.


    The fragment here is an adjective clause and does not express a complete thought unless it is attached to an independent clause. See Complex Sentences.

    The fragment may be a subject with modifiers that needs a linking verb.

    Fragment: Doubt and mistrust everywhere, fogging the minds of managers and workers alike.

    Complete Sentence: Doubt and mistrust were everywhere, fogging the minds of managers and workers alike.


    Were supplies the needed linking verb in this sentence (see Sentence Patterns). Fogging may seem like a verb, but it is only part of a participial phrase and cannot be a complete verb without a helping verb. See Components of a Sentence.

    Run-on Sentences

    Sentences with two or more independent clauses that have been incorrectly combined are known as run-on sentences. A run-on sentence may be either a fused sentence or a comma splice.

    Fused sentence: A family of foxes lived under our shed young foxes played all over the yard.

    Notice that there are two sentences here, one about a family of foxes, which ends with the word shed, and another about the young foxes. These two sentences are simply run together without any punctuation, coordination, or subordination, creating a fused sentence.

    Comma splice: We looked outside, the kids were hopping on the trampoline.

    Here the break between the two sentences is marked with only a comma. Since a comma is not a legitimate way to connect independent clauses, this creates a comma splice.

    Correcting Run-ons with Punctuation

    One way to correct run-on sentences is to correct the punctuation. For example, adding a period will correct the run-on by creating two separate sentences. Using a semicolon between the two complete sentences will also correct the error. A semicolon allows you to keep the two closely related ideas together in one sentence. When you punctuate with a semicolon, make sure that both parts of the sentence are independent clauses.

    Run-on (fused sentence): The accident closed both lanes of traffic we waited an hour for the wreckage to be cleared.

    Corrected sentence: The accident closed both lanes of traffic; we waited an hour for the wreckage to be cleared.

    When you use a semicolon to separate two independent clauses, you may wish to add a conjunctive adverb to show the connection between the two thoughts. After the semicolon, add the conjunctive adverb and follow it with a comma (see Compound Sentences).

    Run-on (comma splice): The project was put on hold, we didn’t have time to slow down, so we kept working.

    Corrected sentence: The project was put on hold; however, we didn’t have time to slow down, so we kept working.

    Coordinating conjunctions (remember FANBOYS) and subordination, discussed in the sections on Compound Sentences and Complex Sentences, can also be used to fix run-ons.

    Exercise 5

    Use what you have learned so far to identify common sentence errors. Label each sentence as a fragment (F), a run-on sentence (R), or a correct, complete sentence (C) in the space before each. Write corrected sentences on the lines below fragments and run-ons.

    _____ Being absent hurts a student's grade, he or she should be in class every day.


    _____ Having been interested in science most of her life, she did well in Biology 101.


    _____ Hurry with your breakfast, you will miss the bus.


    _____ Several students had the right answer; however, most of them failed the exam.


    _____ Several girls expressed concerns about course selections, therefore, changes were made.


    _____ Jim practiced the violin daily, he wanted to excel in music.


    _____ The child loved his mother, but he did not want to obey her.


    _____ I had a severe case of the flu last year.


    _____ And had spent the first three days of my illness in bed.


    _____ Because I was sick of my bed and decided I'd lie on the sofa and watch television.


    _____ Only getting up to take care of the necessities of life.


    _____ Then I must have fallen asleep.


    _____ When I was suddenly conscious again.


    _____ The wind howled outside, the house was damp and chilly, and my fever soared.


    _____ Then somewhere in the blackness ahead of me, I saw a spot of light.


    _____ What has happened to the economy, many Americans want the answer to this question.


    _____ He was late for his appointment, then he forgot to bring his briefcase with him.


    _____ Voting is a privilege, this privilege should not be taken for granted.


    _____ Be ready for any emergency, plan ahead.


    _____ Because I was sure that I had died.


    _____ A friend is always willing to help, friendship is invaluable.


    _____ Although he was sick, James came to class.


    _____ Running a temperature between 102 and 107.


    _____ We were excited about the game, and we won.


    _____ Be careful with your answer, your grade could be affected.


    key takeaways
    • A sentence is complete when it contains both a subject and verb (predicate). A complete sentence makes sense on its own.
    • Every sentence must have a subject, which usually appears at the beginning of the sentence. A subject may be a noun (a person, place, or thing) or a pronoun.
    • A compound subject contains more than one noun.
    • A prepositional phrase describes, or modifies, another word in the sentence but cannot be the subject of a sentence.
    • A verb is often an action word that indicates what the subject is doing. Verbs may be action verbs (transitive or intransitive), linking verbs, or helping verbs.
    • Remembering the five basic sentence patterns is useful when correcting grammar errors.
    • Fragments and run-on sentences are two common errors in sentence construction.
    • Fragments can be corrected by adding a missing subject or verb or combining a dependent clause with an independent clause.
    • Run-on sentences can be corrected by adding appropriate punctuation or using coordination or subordination.

    This page titled 9.2: Syntax (Part 2) is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kathryn Crowther, Lauren Curtright, Nancy Gilbert, Barbara Hall, Tracienne Ravita, and Kirk Swenson (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.