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Thread: The Dirty Clause

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    Local Pedant Contributor lazserus's Avatar
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    The Dirty Clause

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    When we study grammar we are reminded of how little we know. So many terms, so many rules. As complicate as grammar can be, once you get a grip on it, everything just falls into place. In another thread I define grammar and its elements, and a major player in grammar is syntax: the order, organization and proper construction of sentences. Sentences are made up of a number of elements, the clause being perhaps the first subdivision of one. When looking up rules, from punctuation to proper usage of pronouns, they tend to fall under the light of various clause conditions. If you don't know what a clause is you'll quickly become confused, maybe even take the advice wrong and muck up your thought. So let's look at the clause.

    A clause is the smallest grammatical unit of a sentence necessary to complete a proposition, a logical or philosophical thought (something with meaning, logical or philosophical). It is commonly confused with a phrase. Classical thought distinguishes between clauses and phrases, but these days linguistics tells us there is a pure connection. Mumbo jumbo, I know, but it's important to lay a weak foundation. The technical stuff that separates a clause from a phrase is irrelevant, so it's best to treat a clause like a phrase.

    We all know the difference between a complete sentence and a phrase. A clause is part of a whole sentence, just as is a phrase. There are two major types of clauses, and we should discuss these before we get into the overall application.

    Independent Clause
    An independent clause is basically a simple sentence, a thought that stands independent, alone. It has a subject, a verb and an object.

    The dog chewed the couch.

    An independent clause stands as a sentence on its own and thus does not depend on other information.

    Subordinate/Dependent Clause
    The subordinate clause requires more information, thus it cannot stand alone. Typically the information this clause requires comes from the independent clause, or the noun phrase.

    . . . which was so expensive.

    The above example is a dependent clause, it requires more information. A subordinate clause is the same as a dependent clause, it depends on information to make sense; it cannot stand alone.

    Typically you find these clauses piggybacking in less than simple sentence environments. The sentence begins with an independent clause and ends with a subordinate (dependent) clause.

    The dog chewed the couch, which was so expensive.

    It is clear we cannot understand the subordinate clause (which was so expensive) without the independent clause, which provided the subject and action.

    When you get into the nuts and bolts of clauses you have to truly dissect grammar. You need to understand subjects, predicates, switching references, propositions, and a lot more mumbo jumbo that is ultimately useless unless you want to teach kids how to forget all this information. Believe it or not, when you think, when you speak, even when you write, these quirky rules are employed naturally.

    Knowing the details can be helpful, but they are not necessary in order to write well. I've written poetry, fiction and tons of nonfiction, winning awards in two areas, all without knowing the first thing about independent and subordinate clauses. But I still went back to learn some of the details, because those details have helped me become a much stronger writer. It's always encouraged to know the basics. For sure you cannot do well without them.
    Last edited by lazserus; Aug 21st, 2011 at 3:24 PM.

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