A grammatical unit that refers to a happening or state (for example, ‘the netball team won’ [happening], ‘the cartoon is an animation’ [state]).

A clause usually contains a subject and a verb group/phrase (for example, ‘the team [subject] has played [verb group/phrase] a fantastic game’), which may be accompanied by an object or other complements (elements that are closely related to the verb – for example, ‘the match’ in ‘the team lost the match’) and/or adverbials (for example, ‘on a rainy night’ in ‘the team won on a rainy night’).

A clause can be either a ‘main’ clause (also known as an ‘independent’ clause) or ‘subordinate clause’ (also known as a ‘dependent’ clause), depending on its function.

A main clause does not depend on or function within the structure of another clause.

A subordinate clause depends on or functions within the structure of another clause. It may function directly within the structure of a larger clause, or indirectly by being contained within a noun group/phrase.

In these examples square brackets have been used to indicate a subordinate clause:

  • I took my umbrella [because it was raining].
  • [When I am studying Shakespeare], my time is limited.
  • The man [who came to dinner] is my brother.