Words are the tools of a writer’s trade. It can sometimes be helpful to know more about your trade in order to improve your work.
E.g. The dog ran.
This is a CLAUSE. It can stand on its own without further explanation, so it can also be called an INDEPENDENT CLAUSE.
If we make the sentence longer:
The dog ran because Billy scared it.
The second part of the sentence is known as a DEPENDENT CLAUSE because it could not stand on its own and be understood.
‘because Billy scared it’ – does not make sense.
However sentences are not always that simple or they would be boring. We prefer longer, more descriptive sentences to enable us to keep the reader’s flow going. Short jerky sentences can break up the text too much.
To enable the sentence to be more descriptive, we can use ADJECTIVE CLAUSES or ADVERB CLAUSES.
James is a great magician and he can make his assistant disappear.
This sentence tells you more about James, but it reads in a rather stilted way.
James, who is a great magician, can make his assistant disappear.
The words in bold italics have been changed so that they modify the noun they describe in a neater way. The sentence still maintains its sense, but it reads so much better.
This ADJECTIVE CLAUSE will not stand on its own – it only makes sense in the context of the sentence. It is a CLAUSE rather than a PHRASE because it still contains a NOUN and VERB.
Usually an ADJECTIVE CLAUSE will start with one of three RELATIVE PRONOUNS:
WHO – always refers to people
WHICH – always refers to objects
THAT – can refer to people or objects
Find the ADJECTIVE CLAUSES in these sentences:
The girl slid down the hill and tore her dress.
The girl, who tore her dress, had to go home and tell her mother.
The girl’s mother, who had to sew the hole in the dress, was very cross.
The girl slid down the hill and tore her dress. (No ADJECTIVE CLAUSE)
The girl, who tore her dress, had to go home and tell her mother. (ADJECTIVE CLAUSE)
The girl’s mother, who had to sew the hole in the dress, was very cross. (ADJECTIVE CLAUSE)
When do you use commas in ADJECTIVE CLAUSES?
You do not use a COMMA when THAT is used in a sentence:
E.g. The race that was abandoned was rescheduled for Thursday.
If the ADJECTIVE CLAUSE is essential to the sentence then you do not need a COMMA.
E.g. Children who have mud on their legs will need a shower.
Balls which have gone soft will be put in the bin.
Not all balls are to be put in the bin – just those that have gone soft. Equally not all children require a shower – just those with mud on their legs.
If the ADJECTIVE CLAUSE is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, then use a COMMA:
The dogs, who had been washed and brushed, were going to a pet show.
The boys, who couldn’t stop laughing, were sent to detention.
Photo Credit: Photo on Flickr by akqp