Students understanding the complexity of language

Chapter 01-14: Dependent Clause Markers


Chapter 1: dependent clause markers

The structure class of dependent clause markers consists of four types: subordinators, relatives, interrogatives, and a special category, THAT. Each type signals a specific dependent clause that we will cover in more detail in Chapter 6.
While subordinators can are often categorized as a conjunction, in this book we  include it a dependent clause marker because it is more similar to relatives and  interrogatives as a key marker for dependent clauses. In this respect, subordinators are the markers for subordinate clauses, which are joined (or subordinated) to an independent clause:
  • He couldn’t order a steak dinner [independent clause] because he had forgotten his wallet [subordinate clause].
  • Since the man could not pay for his dinner [subordinate clause], he washed dishes [independent clause].
 Subordinators as part of a subordinate clause create complex sentences by  joining unequal grammatical structures: independent and dependent  clauses. The independent clause can stand on its own as a sentence; the  dependent clause requires the independent clause to make a complete  sentence:
Harold sang old sea ditties while he prepared dinner.
  • Harold sang old sea ditties makes a complete sentence (independent clause).
  • while he prepared dinner only works with Harold sang old sea ditties(dependent clause).
 Subordinators often draw from the same list of words as prepositions,  so it’s important that you understand the difference between a  subordinate clause and a prepositional phrase. In short, a subordinator  precedes the subject in a clause, and a preposition precedes a nominal only. Moreover, subordinators can seem very similar to conjunctive adverbs.  You can tell them apart by checking whether the entire dependent clause or the conjunction alone can be moved in the sentence.
Relatives are the key markers for relative clauses (a type of dependent clause). In English, the prototypical relatives are who, whom, whose, which, and that.  These prototypical relatives are also called pronomial relatives because  even though the relative clause is adjectival, the relative itself, as a  word, functions nominally as a kind of “pronoun” and serves as the subject of the clause.
While subordinate clauses normally function adverbially,  relative clauses function adjectivally within a sentence. Like  adjectives, they modify a nominal (word, phrase, or clause), which is  their antecedent.
The car that hit me was changing lanes.
  • That refers to the car. It introduces a relative clause (that hit me) which modifies the car.
The professor whose schedule was changed threatened to quit.
  • Whose refers to the professor. It introduces a relative clause (whose schedule was changed) to modify (specify) which professor.
The other relatives are where, when, and why. These are sometimes referred to as adverbial relatives because the relative refers to a time or a place. Like the prototypical relatives, these relatives, as a  word, function nominally as a kind of “pronoun” and serve as the subject of the clause. Again, however, always remember that the relative clause functions adjectivally within a sentence by modifying a nominal (word, phrase, or clause):
Our great-grandparents lived in a time when the environment was less polluted.
  • Time: The environment was less polluted then.
 Please explain the reason why you can’t turn in the assignment.
  • Manner: You can’t turn in the assignment for some reason.
 We visited the place where the Vikings landed.
  • Place: The Vikings landed there.
Relatives always have an antecedent, or a preceding nominal  (word, phrase, or clause) to which they refer and which they modify.  Keep in mind when analyzing for relatives that these same words can also  serve as interrogatives, and even as subordinators.
Interrogatives are the key markers for interrogative clauses (a type of dependent clause). The interrogative structure class  looks very similar to the relative. Its members are who, whom, whose, which, what, where, why, when, and how.  Unlike relatives, which always replace the subject, interrogatives can either be pronomial (replacing the subject) or precede the subject to mark the clause as dependent.  Whereas subordinate clauses are adverbial, and  relative clauses are adjectival, interrogative clauses are nominal:
I wonder who left this envelope on my desk.
  • who left this envelope on my desk is functioning nominally as the direct object (I wonder SOMETHING.)
 When this envelope was left on my desk is a question that I asked Gail.
  • When this envelope was left on my desk is functioning nominally as the subject, with is as the main verb of the independent clause (SOMETHING is a question that I asked Gail.
 NOTE: that I asked Gail is a nominal THAT-clause, appositive, renaming QUESTION.
As a nominal, interrogative clauses can fill any of the  common nominal slots in a sentence: subject, subject complement, direct  object, object complement, indirect object, object of the preposition,  adjective complement, or appositive.
Interrogatives can also introduce direct questions:
  • Who left this envelope on my desk?
  • When was this envelope left on my desk?
  • Which mail carrier brought this envelope?
They play a pronominal role in questions. A pronoun substituting for a noun phrase can answer questions starting with  pronominal interrogatives.
THAT – A special category
The word THAT is probably the most versatile word in our language, so you need to be particularly careful when identifying the word THAT as part of your analysis. In other words, THAT can serve as a demonstrative determiner, a pronoun, a relative, or as the key marker for a nominal THAT-clause:
  • That girl plays softball every day. (demonstrative determiner)
  • That is an amazing book. (pronoun)
  • The steak that was sizzling on the grill made my mouth water. (adjectival relative clause modifying steak)
  • The child believes that the puppy is cute. (nominal that-clause = direct object)
 For this section, the focus is on THAT as a marker for a nominal that-clause, which is a dependent clause with the expletive that preceding the subject of the clause. Again, you should be able to distinguish THAT as a relative (replaces the subject) from THAT as a marker for a nominal that-clause (precedes the subject). NOTE: there are plenty of cases where the THAT as part of the nominal that-clause, may be deleted:
  • The truth was that the moving company lost all your furniture.
  • The truth was the moving company lost all your furniture.
  • I am pleased that you are studying noun clauses.
  • I am pleased you are studying noun clauses.
 So whenever you see a clause following immediately after,  especially, a Main Verb Phrase (or non-finite verb) without a dependent  clause marker or punctuation, you should suspect a deleted THAT. We will discuss this more in Chapter 6.
In general, nominal clauses perform nominal functions; in other words, they can do anything that a noun can do.