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Modules

Using Clauses as Nouns, Adjectives and Adverbs

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If a clause can stand alone as a sentence, it is an independent clause, as in the following example:

Independent clause
the Prime Minister is in Ottawa

Some clauses, however, cannot stand alone as sentences: in this case, they are dependent clauses or subordinate clauses. Consider the same clause preceded by the subordinating conjunction when:

Dependent clause
when the Prime Minister is in Ottawa

In this case, the clause cannot stand alone as a sentence since the conjunction when suggests that the clause is providing an explanation for something. As this dependent clause answers the question when? just like an adverb does, it is called a dependent adverb clause (or simply an adverb clause as adverb clauses are always dependent clauses). Note that this clause can replace the adverb tomorrow in the following example:

Adverb
The committee will meet tomorrow.
Adverb clause
The committee will meet when the Prime Minister is in Ottawa.

Dependent clauses may function as adverbs as well as nouns and adjectives.

Noun clauses

A noun clause takes the place of a noun in another clause or phrase. A noun clause may act as the subject or object of a verb, or as the object of a preposition, answering the questions who(m)? or what? Consider the following examples:

Noun
I know Latin.
Noun clause
I know that Latin is no longer spoken as a native language.

In the first example, the noun Latin acts as the direct object of the verb know. In the second example, the entire clause that Latin . . . is the direct object.

Noun clauses may function as indirect questions:

Noun
Their destination is unknown.
Noun clause
Where they are going is unknown.

The question where are they going? with a slight change in word order becomes a noun clause and acts as the subject of the verb is.

Example Explanation
about what you bought at the mall This noun clause is the object of the preposition about and answers the question about what?
Whoever broke the vase will have to pay for it. This noun clause is the subject of the compound verb will have to pay and answers the question who will have to pay?
The Toronto fans hope that the Blue Jays will win again. This noun clause is the object of the verb hope and answers the question what do the fans hope?

Adjective clauses

An adjective clause is a dependent clause that takes the place of an adjective in another clause or phrase. Like an adjective, an adjective clause modifies a noun or pronoun, answering questions such as which? or what kind of? Consider the following examples:

Adjective
the red coat
Adjective clause
the coat that I bought yesterday

Both the adjective red (in the first example) and the dependent clause that I bought yesterday (in the second example) modify the noun coat. Note that an adjective clause generally follows the noun or pronoun it modifies, while an adjective usually precedes it.

In formal writing, adjective clauses begin with the relative pronouns who(m), that or which. In informal writing or speech, you may omit the relative pronoun when it is not the subject of the adjective clause.

Informal
The books people read were mainly religious.
Formal
The books that people read were mainly religious.
Informal
Some firefighters never meet the people they save.
Formal
Some firefighters never meet the people whom they save.
Example Explanation
the meat that they ate was tainted This adjective clause modifies the noun meat and answers the question which meat?
about the movie that made him cry This adjective clause modifies the noun meat and answers the question which meat?
they are searching for the one who borrowed the book This adjective clause modifies the pronoun one and answers the question which one?
Did I tell you about the author whom I met? This adjective clause modifies the noun author and answers the question which author?

Adverb clauses

An adverb clause is a dependent clause that takes the place of an adverb in another clause or phrase. An adverb clause answers questions such as when?, where?, why?, with what goal/result? and under what conditions?

Note that an adverb clause may replace an adverb, as in the following example:

Adverb
The premier gave a speech here.
Adverb clause
The premier gave a speech where the workers were striking.

Subordinating conjunctions such as because, when(ever), where(ever), since, after and so that introduce adverb clauses. Note that a dependent adverb clause can never stand alone as a complete sentence:

Independent clause
they left the locker room
Dependent adverb clause
after they left the locker room

The first example may stand alone as a sentence, but the second cannot—the reader will ask what happened after they left the locker room? Here are some more examples of adverb clauses expressing the relationships of cause, effect, space, time and condition:

Cause
Hamlet wanted to kill his uncle because the uncle had murdered his father.

The adverb clause answers the question why?

Effect
Hamlet wanted to kill his uncle so that his father’s murder would be avenged.

The adverb clause answers the question with what goal/result?

Time
After Hamlet’s uncle Claudius married his mother, Hamlet wanted to kill him.

The adverb clause answers the question when? Note the change in word order—an adverb clause can often appear either before or after the main clause of the sentence.

Place
Where the whole Danish court was assembled, Hamlet ordered a play in an attempt to prove his uncle’s guilt.

The adverb clause answers the question where?

Condition
If she arrives on time, she will see the play.

The adverb clause answers the question under what conditions?


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