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Independent Clauses

30 Jun 2019 » Clauses, Independent Clauses

A typical CSET question about Clauses

might go something like this:

Which of the following sentences uses a coordinating conjunction to connect two independent clauses?

A. Last January was very cold, but February was even colder.
B. Rain finally came, although most crops had been lost by then.
C. The stars and the moon shone bright, which was a glorious sight.
D. As a result of all the lightning, two big trees were struck down.

One tip to remember when taking a test — of any kind— is to identify what is being asked. In the question above, you’re actually being asked to identify two things, making this question slightly more difficult question than it appears at first.

Take a quick moment to reread the question and decided what you’re being asked to identify. You should have guessed ‘coordinating conjunction’ and ‘independent clauses’. In this lesson, we’ll focus on clauses, specifically, independent clauses.


Clauses form the basis of a sentence in English and in doing so they display a few key features of the language: Subjects and their accompanying Verbs form a relationship that is vital and the Verb carries with it the most responsibility.

Let’s take a look.

First off, a clause is a group of words that contain a subject and a verb. The subject in English is always a noun, even if it doesn’t appear to be so. Lets use the following example:

Birds fly.

This stark group of words is well formed English clause because it has a noun and verb and they make sense together: Birds (a noun) and fly (a verb). Notice first the order (or syntax). If we switch the order and place the verb first, we get a radically different clause: Fly birds. (This is a command and not a statement, or an imperative and not a declarative. All of the sentences in the question above are declaratives; none of the sentences is commanding you to do something. These are the types of clauses we are interested in today.)

So what we have learned is that a well formed declarative clause requires the noun to precede the verb, and for those two words to have some semantic connection.

“Peanut butter flies”.

This sentence contains a noun and a verb in the correct order, but they have nothing to do with each other, and so are nonsensical. Grammatically it’s correct, but it’s not well formed.

So, in general, any noun followed by a verb forms a clause. For example:

Babies cry
Dogs bite
Cats meow
Students study

Notice how each of these could be their own sentences too. They are each complete in thought. That makes them independent. They rely on nothing else to complete them. Compare with the following

When babies cry
Because dogs bite
But cats meow
Therefore, students study

Independent Clauses

Each sentence above has a proper noun and verb and they occur in the right order. They even make sense. But they cannot stand on their own. Why not?

Because they’re being connected (or conjoined) to another thought by when, because, but, and therefore. Adding those words removes the clause’s independence.

Let’s look back at all the clauses from the original question testing them. Do they have a noun followed by a verb and does their relationship make a complete thought:

  1. Last January was very cold
    In the first clause, we have a noun (last February) and a verb (was). Also, this is a complete thought, so it is an independent clause.
  2. February was even colder
    We have a noun (February) and the same verb (was). It’s also a complete thought, so it’s an independent clause.

  3. Rain finally came
    Rain is a noun and came is verb. Both parts exist and they are a complete thought. Independent clause.
  4. most crops had been lost by then
    Most crops is a noun. Had been lost is a verb. And it’s kinda sorta able to stand on its own, although the word “then” makes it close. Let’s call this independent.

  5. The stars and the moon shone bright. Stars and the moon — Noun. Shone is a verb. Clearly independent.
  6. which was a glorious sight \ Which is a noun because it is a relative pronoun, and a pronouns are nouns. But which refers back to the information from the previous sentence. This word alone makes the clause not independent. The clause clearly requires prior knowledge to make any sense. To verify this, imagine walking into a room and starting a sentence with, “Which was glorious”. Now try “It was glorious.” That first sentence will confuse the hell out of people. The second will make them want to listen for more.

  7. As a result of all the lightning
    As a result is clearly connecting to something. Because its — you know — the result. Not independent.
  8. two big trees were struck down
    Noun (two big trees) and verb (were). No words connect to something else, so this is independent.

Without even knowing anything about coordinating conjunctions (which we still need to identify to be able to answer this question), we can eliminate sentences C and D because they do not contain two independent clauses. A and B both do, however.

The TL/DR is that an independent clause is a group of words that contains a noun followed by a verb, and does not rely on information from any other sentence to make sense. Clauses that start with because, when, if, therefore, and more, link ideas, and therefore are signals of dependency.