Main and Subordinate Clauses


Subordination is a non-symmetrical relation holding between two clauses in such a way that one is a constituent. On the other hand, coordination is a symmetrical relation between two items. Explicit indicators of subordination are known as subordinators while indicators of coordination are known as coordinators.

Both coordination and subordination involve the linking of units; however while the two units being linked in coordination are equal and at the same level, in subordination, one of the units being linked is subordinated to the other. Let’s consider the following:

  1. I saw Biola (Main Clause).
  2. She greeted me (MC).
  3. I saw Biola (MC) and she greeted me (MC).
  4. I saw Biola (i) and she greeted me (ii) because she knew me (iii) when I was her teacher (iv).

In Example 4, clauses (i) and (ii) are coordinated main clauses while clauses (iii) and (iv) are subordinate clauses.


Note that the subordinate clauses are introduced by subordinators “because” and “when”.

Example 4 shows that we can link two or more subordinate clauses.

  • I think (MC) that you can do it (SC) if you try (SC).

Subordinate clauses can be of various types: by virtue of their structure, what introduces them, or the function they perform.

  • I saw Biola when she was travelling (Adverbial clause of time).
  • I will give you what you want (Nominal Clause).
  • Pray over (Verbless clause), let’s begin.
  • The girl who came here this morning (adjectival/relative clause) is his daughter.

As mentioned above, a subordinate clause can also take another subordinate clause.

  • Although I always see her (SC) whenever I take a stroll in the evening (SC), we are not on talking terms (MC).

A subordinate clause can be classified in terms of structure into three: (a) finite clause; (b) non-finite clause; and (c) verbless clause, irrespective of the function they perform.

It is a finite clause when the verb is finite and non-finite clause when the clause has no verbal element but it can be analysed as a clause in a subordinate position. Examples:

  • I like Biola because she is brilliant. (Finite clause – Adjunct)
  • I like to read. (Non-finite clause – Direct Object/Complement Extensive)
  • Swimming early in the morning is good. (Non-finite clause – Subject)
  • Considered inconsequential, his brilliant idea was ignored. (Non-finite clause – Adjunct)
  • Although very brilliant, she is arrogant. (Verbless clause – Adjunct)
  • To be honest, the prospect is not good at all. (Non-finite clause – Adjunct)
  • I saw Biola when she came back. (Finite clause – Adjunct)
  • He has no intention to correct the wrongs. (Non-finite clause – Qualifier in a Nominal Group)
  • The wisest policy is not to interfere. (Non-finite clause – Subject complement)
  • When ripe, these apples will be delicious. (Verbless clause – Adjunct)
  • I suppose (that) you are right. (Finite clause – Direct Object/Complement Extensive)


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