Basically, a clause is a part of a sentence that contains both a subject and a verb whether the clause is dependent or independent.   An independent clause can be a sentence all by itself; it needs nothing added to it.  An independent clause, then, can stand alone.  A dependent clause never forms a complete sentence by itself.  A dependent clause needs, depends on, an independent clause to complete the sentence.  An dependent clause will sound odd and unfinished by itself and that is because it is merely a sentence fragment.  It is highly unpleasant to read fragments.  Fragments leave the reader baffled because the reader wants the rest of the sentence and the rest is not there!

These are examples of dependent clauses forming sentence fragments.  Notice how odd they sound.  Find the subjects and verbs in these dependent clauses. The conjunctions have been put in italics.

1.  When the sorcerer cast the spell.

2.  Since the troll lived under the bridge.

3. Although the princess captured the ogre.

A sentence can have one, two, or even three independent clauses.   The extra clauses will be joined by a conjunction or by semi-colons.  More than three independent clauses stuck together may sound like a run-on.  Sometimes you might be able to have four independent clauses in a sentence, but very rarely.  Five clauses would definitely become a run-on sentence.  If you find yourself running out of breath when you read the sentence aloud, chances are you have a run-on sentence.

Find the subjects and verbs in each of these sentences to see independent clauses.
In sentences that contain more than one independent clause, the conjunction or semi-colon has been put in bold type.

1.   The unicorn nibbled the dandelion leaves.  There is No Conjunction in this simple sentence.

2.   An adventurer hid behind a rock to watch the unicorn, and she  took a rope out of her pack.

3.  The adventurer tied a noose in the rope; she pulled some oats out of her pack, and she threw the oats to the unicorn.

4.  The unicorn watched the adventurer out of the corner of his eye; he happily ate the oats; he ate the rope, too; then, he bounded away.

Number 4 is a run-on. The last and last clauses should be separated since they can stand on their own and because the ideas they express are different enough that they make more sense standing alone.  The unicorn watched the adventurer out of the corner of his eye. He happily ate the oats the adventurer threw before him; he ate the rope, too!  Then, he bounded away.

A sentence can also contain one or two independent clauses with one or two dependent clauses.  Once in awhile you may see or write a sentence with three dependent clauses, but more  than three dependent clauses in a sentence will also create a run-on.  In the numbered sentences, find the subjects and verbs and also the conjunctions or semicolons.

1.  When the lonely princess looked up, she saw three swans, one white and two black,  swimming along in the stream.

2.  Although all the swans were beautiful, the princess distrusted the white swan.

3.  The  white swan turned into a horrible ogre and the two black swans turned into handsome princes as the princess fled up a tree.

4.  The ogre grabbed the two princes as the princes drew their swords while the princess clobbered the ogre with her parasol.

5.  After the princes tied up the unconscious ogre, they assisted the princess down from the tree since her skirt had caught in the branches.

6.  When the princes had tried catching the ogre with magic,  their spells had caught them too.

7.  The princess asked the princes if they could turn the ogre into parrots because she had been hunting for parrots and had brought a cage.

8.  Very carefully the princes cast a spell on the ogres while the princess picked up her cage.

9.  When the ogre turned into a parrot, one prince untied the parrot while the other prince pushed the parrot into the cage.

10.  Since the parrot had originally been a parrot, not an ogre,  it was very happy to be a beautiful parrot again.

Now go back and underline the dependent clauses and write D under them; then circle the independent clauses and write I under them.

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