We’ve learned that there are three kinds of dependent clauses: subordinate clauses, relative clauses, and nominal clauses.

Sometimes nominal clauses superficially resemble subordi- nate or relative clauses. This chapter will help you get better at recognizing each kind.

First, let’s review.

Subordinate clauses are adverbial. They can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. When modifying verbs, they are usually moveable. They always begin with a subordinating con- junction:


While I have been working, the phone has been ringing. The phone has been ringing while I have been working.


Since my assistant left, my job has been harder. My job has been harder since my assistant left,


Arthur is so generous that he never thinks of himself. She runs faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.



Relative clauses are adjectival, following nouns and occa- sionally pronouns. They begin with relative pronouns or relative adverbs and follow the nouns they modify.


Ed is the man who told me that story.

The report that shocked me is summarized in the papers. It was he who called you earlier.

We ate at the restaurant in Portland where we first met.


Nominal clauses can fill noun positions just about anywhere in a sentence. Nominalizers or question words appear at the be- ginning of nominal clauses:


I wonder if he will come to the party. I think that he will come.

I wondered why you left early.

We have learned how the mistake was made.

Whoever speaks up will be heard. She can see whomever she likes.



As we saw in the last chapter, nominal clauses are introduced by question words (who, what, where, when, why, how, and others) or by nominalizers (that, if, or whether):


I know when they arrive.

I know where they will arrive. I’ll decide whether we will go.

I wonder if the weather will be pleasant.


You can often recognize nominal clauses because they fill noun positions in their sentences: subjects, direct objects, predicate nominatives, appositives, and others. In most sentences that con-




tain nominal clauses, you can replace each nominal with a noun without changing the grammar of the rest of the sentence:


I know Bob.

I know Milwaukee. I’ll decide the matter.


An exception is the word wonder:


I wonder if the weather will be pleasant.


Wonder can be a transitive verb with a direct object only if the direct object is a nominal clause.

Here are some more examples:


My question is what happened to Ralph? [a predicate nominative]

What happened to Ralph is the question. [a subject]

I have learned what happened to Ralph. [a direct object]


Subordinate clauses, which are adverbial, may superficially re- semble nominal clauses because some subordinating conjunctions look like question words and nominalizers:


I always meet them when they arrive.

I’ll meet them whether or not they are on time. I’ll meet them if they are on time.


But it’s usually easy to distinguish subordinates from nominals. The subordinates—because they are adverbial—are often moveable; they can be shifted to the beginning or end of the sentence:


When they arrive, I always meet them.

Whether or not they are on time, I’ll meet them.

If they are on time, I’ll meet them.



Nominal clauses can never be shifted this way.

Before we go further, let’s practice distinguishing these clauses.







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Interactive Grammar Book by Sushumna Rao Tadinada; Professor Moustapha Diack; and Diola Bagayoko, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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