Types of Subordinate Clauses

A clause is a group of words containing both subject and a verb. There are two major types of clauses: Main Clause or Independent Clause and Subordinate or dependent clause.

I saw a man who was crying.

The part of the above sentence ‘I saw a man’ can alone stand as an independent sentence because it gives complete meaning. Such a clause is called main clause or independent clause. On the other hand, the remaining part of the above sentence ‘who was crying’ cannot (as alone) stand as an independent sentence. It cannot (as alone part) give complete meaning because it depends on the main clause to become a complete sentence and give a complete idea. Such a clause is called subordinate clause or dependent clause.

Types of Subordinate Clause

A subordinate clause can act as an adjective, a noun or an adverb in a sentence. There are three types of Subordinate Clause depending upon its function in a sentence:

  1. Noun Clause
  2. Adverb Clause
  3. Adjective Clause


A subordinate clause which acts as a noun in a sentence is called a Noun Clause. It usually starts with words such as ‘that, what, whatever, who, whom, whoever, whomever’. It acts exactly like a noun in a sentence. It can work as a noun either at the place of a subject or an object.


Whatever we study increases our knowledge.   (Noun as a subject)
What you eat determines your body-size.           (Noun as a subject)
I buy whatever I need.                                                     (Noun as an object)
Now I realized what you had thought.                   (Noun as an object)


A subordinate clause which acts as an adjective in a sentence is called an Adjective Clause. Like an adjective, it modifies (add information to) a noun or pronoun in the sentence. An adjective clause mostly starts with relative pronouns such as ‘that, who, whom, whose, which, or whose’.


I saw a child who was crying.                                          (modifies noun: child)
He hates the people who waste time.                       (modifies noun: people)
I watch a movie which amused me a lot.                 (modifies noun: movie)
The car, which I like, consumes less fuel.                  (modifies noun: car )
The building, where he lives, consists of many apartments.      (modifies noun: building )


A subordinate clause which acts as an adverb in a sentence is called an Adjective Clause. Like an adverb, it modifies a verb, an adjective-clause or another adverb clause in the sentence. It modifies (add information to) a verb (action) of the main clause in terms of ‘time, frequency (i.e. how often), condition, cause and effect; and intensity (i.e. extent).

It mostly uses the following subordinating conjunctions:

Time: when, whenever, since, until, before, after, while, as, by the time, as soon as
Cause and effect: because, since, now that, as long as, so, so that,
Contrast: although, even, whereas, while, though
Condition: if, unless, only if, whether or not, even if, providing or provided that, in case


Call me when you need my help.                                             (modifies verb: call)
Unless you avoid sugar, you can’t lose weight.                     (modifies verb: lose weight)
The patient had died before the doctor reached.               (modifies verb: die)
You live a happy life as long as you think positively.          (modifies verb: live)
I worked in a factory while I was living in London.             (modifies verb: work)
You can succeed in life provided that you are sincere to your work.  (modifies verb: succeed)