Clause Analysis

“A group of words that forms part of a sentence, and has a Subject and a Predicate of its own, is called a Clause.” (Wren)

Clauses are of Three kinds :

  1. Principal Clause
  2. Subordinate Clause
  3. Co-ordinate Clause

Principal Clause: Principal Clause is the main clause of the whole sentence.

Subordinate Clause: “A Subordinate Clause is a component part of some other clause, in which it does the work (without possessing the form) of a Noun, Adjective or Adverb”. (Nesfield)

Co-ordinate Clause: “A Co-ordinate clause is not a component part of any other clause but forms a complete grammatical whole by itself.” (Nesfield)

Simple Sentence: A simple sentence is one which has only one Finite Verb, and may have a Subject and a Predicate.


“A Simple Sentence is one which has only one Finite verb.” (Wren)

Complex Sentence: A complex sentence is one that contains one Main Clause (Principal clause) and one or more Subordinate clauses.” (Wren)

Compound Sentence: “A Compound Sentence is one made up of two or more Co-ordinate clauses.” It may or may not have a subordinate clause.

Clause Analysis

Clause Analysis means analysing or breaking up of a complex or compound sentence into its Principal, Co-ordinate and Subordinate clauses and pointing out their mutual grammatical relationships.

How to break up a sentence into its Clauses

While breaking up a complex / compound sentence into its clauses, it should be remembered that it will have as many clauses as it has Finite Verbs. It should be kept in mind that only the Finite Verbs, and not Gerunds, Infinitives, or Participles make the clauses.

How to find the Principal Clause

The first step in clause Analysis is to find out the Principal Clause. The question is how to distinguish a Principal clause from its co-ordinate or Subordinate clauses.

In this connection it should be remembered that a sub-ordinate clause always begins with a subordinating conjunction. Likewise, a Co-ordinate clause begins with a coordinating conjunction.

Therefore a clause which begins neither with a subordinating nor a coordinating conjunction is the Principal Clause.

The following are the Subordinating conjunctions with which a subordinate clause may begin:

When, where, which, what, how, who, whom, whose, whether, if, provided, provided that, notwithstanding, as, as if, as though, as much as, as far as, as soon as, as long as, so long as, according as, after, before, because, since, until, unless, for, in that, than that, now that, though, so that, in order that, so much so


A Principal clause will not begin with any of the above listed conjunctions. For example:

  • I met the man who came yesterday.

In this sentence there are two clauses :

One, ‘I met the man’, and the second,

who came yesterday’.

Now, this second clause begins with the Subordinating conjunction who; therefore this is the Subordinate Clause.

The first clause does not begin with any Subordinating conjunction and is, therefore, the Principal Clause.

Analysis of Complex Sentences

As we have stated above, a complex sentence has a Principal clause and one or more Subordinate clauses.

Subordinate Clauses are of three kinds:

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

(I) Subordinate Noun Clause

Subordinate Noun Clause does the work of a Noun. A Noun Clause has the following Five functions:

  1. The Subject of a verb
  2. The Object of a Transitive verb
  3. The Object of a Preposition
  4. The Complement to a verb of incomplete predication.
  5. Case in apposition to a noun.

(1) Noun Clause as the Subject of a verb

  • Where he lives is not known to me.

“Where he lives” is the subject of the Verb ‘is’.

  • That you should tell a lie surprises me.

“That you should tell a lie” is the subject of the Verb ‘surprises’. In the same way :

  • How he reached there is a mystery.
  • When I shall return is uncertain.
  • Whether he will help you is not sure.

(2) Noun Clause as the Object of a Transitive verb

  • He told me that he was going to Calcutta.

“that he was going to Calcutta” is the object of the Verb ‘told’.

  • I do not know where he lives.

“where he lives” is the object of the Verb ‘know’.

  • I spend what I earn.
  • I do not know which book you want.
  • He replied that he did not go there.

(3) Noun Clause as the Object of a Preposition

  • Give full attention to what I say.

“what I say” is the object of the Preposition ‘to’.

  • My success in future depends upon how you help me in this case.

“how you help me in this case” is the object of the Preposition ‘upon’.

  • This book will sell for what it is worth.
  • I can find no meaning in what you have said.
  • I have no complaint except that I have a headache.

(4) Noun Clause as a Complement to a Verb

  • This is what I told you.

“what I told you” is the complement to the Verb ‘is’.

  • My great fear is that he may drown.

“that he may drown” is the complement to the Verb ‘is’.

  • Life is how we live it.
  • My question was whether you could do this work.
  • This is where I lived last year.

(5) Noun Clause as Case in Apposition to a Noun

  • The rumour that he committed the murder has come true.

“that he committed the murder” is case in apposition to the noun ‘rumour’.

  • The report that the enemy is coming is wrong.

“that the enemy is coming” is case in apposition to the noun ‘report’.

  • Your suspicion that the servant has stolen the watch is baseless.
  • His hope that he would be selected for the post has been belied.
  • His ambition that he may become the President of India is ill-founded.

How to recognize a Noun Clause

Noun Clause often begins with the following three connectives:

(1) Conjunction “That”. A clause beginning with that and coming immediately after a Transitive Verb is a Noun clause. As:

  • He said that he was not guilty.

(2) A clause beginning with any Relative or Interrogative Adverb is a Noun clause, provided that the Adverb so used does not have its antecedent. As:

  • I want to know where he lives.
  • I do not know why he came last night.

(3) A clause beginning with any Relative or Interrogative Pronoun is a Noun clause, provided that the Pronoun so used does not have its antecedent. As:

  • I want to know who has done this.

(II) Subordinate Adjective Clause

“An Adjective Clause is one which does the work of an Adjective in relation to some other clause.” (Nesfield)

An Adjective Clause is the clause which qualifies a Noun or a Pronoun in some other clause in the sentence.

(1) An Adjective clause begins with a Relative Pronoun or a Relative Adverb, provided the Pronoun or Adverb has its Antecedent immediately

before it. As:

  • This is the boy who stole my fountain pen.

“who stole my fountain pen” is an Adjective Clause because it begins with the Relative Pronoun ‘who’ and its Antecedent ‘boy’ has been used immediately before it.

  • I want to know the time when the train arrives here.

“when the train arrives here” is an Adjective Clause because it begins with the Relative Adverb ‘when’ and its Antecedent ‘time’ comes immediately before it.

  • Do you know the place where he lives ?
  • Tell me the reason why you have dismissed me.
  • He is the man whom I admire most.
  • This is the serpent that is most poisonous.
  • He is the man whose house caught fire last night.

(2) Sometimes the Relative Pronoun or the Relative Adverb with which the Adjective clause begins, remains understood. In such a case, the Relative Pronoun / Adverb should be mentally added from your side before attempting the analysis. As:

  • He is the man * I know very well.

In this sentence ‘whom’ is understood at the point marked *. Therefore ‘I know very well’ is an Adjective clause.

  • Return the book * I gave you.

‘that’ is understood.

  • Here is the servant * I engaged yesterday.

In this sentence ‘whom’ is understood.

  • He is the man * I called here yesterday.

‘whom’ is understood.

(3) Sometimes ‘but’ is used as a Relative Pronoun, which is negative in meaning. In such a case the clause beginning with ‘but’ is an Adjective clause. As:

  • There was not a soldier but fought bravely to the end.

In this sentence ‘but’ means ‘who did not’, and therefore but ‘fought bravely’ is an Adjective clause.

  • There is no man but loves his country.

Here ‘but’ means “who does not.”

  • There is no crime but can be detected.

Here ‘but’ means ‘that cannot be’.

(4) Sometimes ‘than’ is used as a Preposition before a Relative Pronoun. In such a case, the clause beginning with ‘than’ is a Relative Pronoun. As:

  • We are all followers of the principles of Mahatma Gandhi than whom India has produced no nobler saint.

In this sentence ‘than whom’ means ‘in whose comparison’, therefore the clause beginning with ‘than’ is an Adjective clause.

  • It was a blow than which no crueler could be struck.

In this sentence ‘than which’ means ‘in comparison to which’, therefore the clause beginning with ‘than’ is an Adjective clause.

(III) Subordinate Adverb Clause

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Analysis of Compound Sentences

A Compound Sentence is one which has one Principal Clause and one or more Co-ordinate Clauses to the Principal Clause. It may or may not have Subordinate Clauses.

(1) Co-ordinate Clause often begins with Conjunction ‘And’ or ‘But’ As:

  • I went to the market and purchased a book.

“and purchased a book” is Co-ordinate Clause.

  • He went to Delhi yesterday and met the President there.
  • I offered to help him but he declined.
  • I put several questions to him but he failed to answer any of them.

(2) Sometimes coordinating connective remains understood. In that case the comma (,) or Semi-Colon (;) does the work of connective conjunction. Sometimes even the Verb also remains understood. As:

  • His life is simple; his thoughts sublime.
  • Action is life, idleness death.
  • Beauty is truth, truth beauty.
  • Prosperity finds friends, adversity tries them.

(3) Sometimes a coordinate clause may begin with a subordinating connective. As:

  • I shall meet you tomorrow, when we shall finalise the plan.

In this sentence ‘when’ means ‘and then’. Therefore the clause beginning with when is a co-ordinate clause.

  • We went to the aerodrome, where we bade him adieu. (Here “where” means “and there”.)
  • I found a purse, which I brought home. (Here “which” means “and which”.)

(4) Sometimes Compound sentences are written in their contracted form, and only one Verb is used for both the Verbs. As:

  • He is rich but unhappy.

In the above sentence ‘but unhappy’ is the contracted form of “but he is unhappy”. Therefore this is a co-ordinate clause.

  • Either you must pay or your father.

Here “or your father” means “or your father must pay”.

  • Neither my father nor I can help you.

This sentence would mean “Neither my father can help you nor can I help you”.

  • All the soldiers as well as the commander were killed on the battle-field.

This sentence means “All the soldiers were killed on the battle-field as well as the commander was killed on the battlefield”.

(5) Sometimes a co-ordinate clause may begin with some Subordinating conjunctions like either……or; neither……nor; else, otherwise, etc. As:

  • Either work hard or give up your studies.
  • Neither you nor your father will get any help.
  • Act according to my advice otherwise you will repent.
  • Behave properly, else I shall report against you.

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