The independent clause is the main idea of the sentence. It is not dependent on another clause for meaning and context.
Avoid using the description that the independent clause can “stand by itself” or “makes sense by itself.”Many dependent clauses, when removed from the context of the sentence, make sense on their own. Nonetheless, they are dependent on the rest of the sentence for meaning and should not be evaluated outside of the sentence.
[In the following examples, the subject(s) and verb(s) are bold and the entire independent clause is underlined.]
When a sentence has only a single clause, that clause is always an independent clause.
- Carl Derek Cooper has reached an agreement to plead guilty to charges stemming from a triple killing at a Starbucks coffee shop.
There is only one clause, and it is independent.
- Strong earnings reports lured investors back to the technology sector after a wave of selling on Monday.
In this sentence, AFTER is a preposition rather than a subordinating conjunction.
- After punishing selloffs earlier this month, the Nasdaq is now 28 percent below its all-time high of 5,048.62, reached March 10.
REACHED is a participle. There is only one clause.
- Mike Forbes’ ideological mix has already caused him problems this year
More than one subject or verb does not necessarily indicate more than one clause.
- Paper, printing and binding may become things of the past.
PAPER, PRINTING and BINDING are all the subjects of the clause, but there is still only one clause.
- Users check their e-mail, adjust their stock portfolios, retrieve directions to a sales meeting, an keep track of family birthdays.
There is one subject connected to four verbs—CHECK, ADJUST, RETRIEVE and KEEP—but still one subject.
More than one subject with its own verb and separated by a coordinating conjunction indicates more than one independent clause.
- Words on a screen have visual qualities, to be sure, but they have no materiality.
Here there are two clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction. A coordinating conjunction between two clauses indicates that both clauses are independent.
- Smith moved to Seattle in the mid-’80s, and he started another company.
There must be both a subject and a verb on either side of the conjunction for there to be two independent clauses.
- He moved to Seattle in the mid-’80s and started another company.
In this sentence, there is no subject to go with the verb on the other side of the conjunction; therefore, it is only one independent clause.
- He and others are working to develop reading devices, yet publishers will sell to whoever wins the race.
Do not be fooled into thinking that a coordinating conjunction automatically indicates the existence of another independent clause.
- We have had forecasts this bad in the past and launched successfully.
There must be both a subject and a verb on either side of the conjunction for there to be two independent clauses. In this sentence, WE is the subject and HAVE HAD and LAUNCHED go with that single subject. There is only one clause and it is independent.
- The station will be a 21st century marvel but is losingits orbit, short on power and months away from being habitable.
In this sentence, STATION is the subject and WILL BE and IS LOSING are attached to that single subject. There is only one clause and it is independent.
An independent clause can also be connected to a dependent clause. In that case, a subordinating conjunction provides the link between them.
- When Atlantis does lift off, it will eventually dock with the $60-billion International Space Station on a repair and supply mission.
The independent clause or main point of this sentence is that the shuttle will dock. The dependent clause, which begins with the subordinate conjunction WHEN, indicates when the docking will take place.
- Attorney General Janet Reno decided not to prevent photographers from taking pictures of Elian Gonzalez as agents seized him at gunpoint.
The independent clause or main point of this sentence Janet Reno’s decision. The dependent clause, which begins with the subordinate conjunction AS, indicates when.
- The coach was so taken aback by the pitcher’s lack of command that he watched an inning on television to get a better idea of where her pitches were going.
The independent clause or main point of this sentence that the coach was taken aback. The dependent clause, which begins with the subordinate conjunction THAT, tells what he did as a result.
An independent clause may work with a restrictive or nonrestrictive dependent clause.
[In the following examples, the subject and verb of the independent clause are bold and the independent clause is underlined.]
- The boy who crashed his bike into Mark’s garage broke his nose.
In this type of sentence, the main clause surrounds the dependent clause. THE BOY BROKE HIS NOSE is the main clause.
- Near the end of the picnic, the dog that took the steaks off of the table returned for dessert.
The subject of the dependent clause in this type of sentence is a relative pronoun that relates to the noun preceding it. THAT TOOK THE STEAKS is the dependent clause. THAT is the subject of the clause.
- How did you meet the man who offered you the job?.
In question form, the subject and verb do not follow the standard subject, verb, complement order. YOU is the subject of the independent clause. WHO is the subject of the dependent clause.
- Have you considered hiring Josh, who received several awards for excellence in design last year?
The subject of the dependent clause in this type of sentence may or may not be separated from the main clause by a comma.