Monday, October 20th, 2008

MM: Claustrophobic?

mangled2

Does the thought of talking about sentence clauses make your eye twitch? Well, let’s see if we can’t make this a little simpler for you.

We have talked about basic sentence structure over the last two weeks, and how all a sentence really needs is a subject and a predicate–either simple ones, or compound ones..

This is quite simple, really, but does help explain why clauses can seem confusing … because that’s what a clause is, too. Any group of words with a subject and a predicate.

Um, right. So, if a simple sentence and a clause have the same definition, why isn’t a clause a sentence?

The quick answer is because we don’t talk in simple sentences. At least, not past the age of three. If you look at the nearest book, you’re not going to see many (if any) sentences that are made up of a simple subject/predicate combination. Most of them will be just a little more complex than that. Words combine to become clauses; clauses (can) combine to become sentences.

There are two types of clauses: main and subordinate.

A Main Clause can stand on its own. Put a period at the end of it, and you have a complete sentence, no confusion.

  • My dog is really tired.
  • We took lots of great pictures.
  • We have lots of storage space.

A Subordinate Clause, however, depends on the main clause to make sense.

  • My dog is really tired and I am, too.
  • We took lots of great pictures, then the battery died.
  • We have lots of storage space, but it’s filled with books.

In each of these examples, the first clause is a complete thought–it works on its own, or with a subordinate–but there’s no confusion either way. That’s why it’s the Main clause.

For the Subordinate clause, though, even though there is a subject and a verb, it’s incomplete without the clarification of the main clause. The “I am, too” in the first example works just fine–you know that my dog is tired and that I am too (possibly from a busy weekend for both of us), but without knowing what I had to say about my dog, you would have no way of what “I am, too” meant.

Similarly, “the battery died,” could mean almost anything. The battery in a clock? Radio? MP3 player? Computer? Pace-maker? But with the main clause mentioning taking pictures, you can narrow down the options to, say, the batteries in a camera, or maybe a flash or a light. And if I walk up to you, tap you on the shoulder and say, “It’s filled with books,” you’re going to be a little confused, aren’t you? It’s okay, you can admit it, because there’s no way you could know what was filled with books. A desk? A bookcase? A closet? A box? All of the above? (In my house, yes, all of them, and more.)

That’s the beauty of Main and Subordinate clauses. They work together, but one of them always takes the lead, becomes more important. As long as the leader is there, everything works smoothly, but without the leader to point the way, the subordinates are just random bits and pieces without anything to give them clarity or a sense of purpose.

One Comment on “MM: Claustrophobic?”


  1. Yes, I was accused of having run on sentences lately by a friend…and I think, it was just a long paragraph in disguise. ;)

    J’s last blog post..The Bluest Eye