what is an  independent clause?

Many people might see little value in being able to identify independent and dependent clauses – after all, we use these features in almost every sentence we speak, without having to identify them by name. However, any writer who wants full control of his or her writing style needs to be able to use commas and semicolons correctly – and that demands a knowledge of independent and dependent clauses.

An independent clause, as the name implies, needs nothing else; it can stand on its own two feet. All it needs is a subject and a finite verb.  
The subject could be a thing, a person or a represented by a pronoun.  It could be ‘the man’, ‘mountains’, ‘Mister Smith’, ‘joy’,  ‘’it’, she’, or ‘I’. The subject could even be a longer phrase: 'The man who warned me about pickpockets'.

A finite verb simply means that the verb is limited in some way… by being in past or present tense or by being pinned to one person or several.
The infinitive of a verb has no limits: to swim, to fly, to think, to eat … these infinitives offer no clue to whether on person is doing it or ten people, or whether it is being done right now, ten years ago or maybe in the future.
In the same way the type of verb called a participle is not a finite verb  –  words such as ‘swimming, driving, or loving give no clue as to when the action occurred or who is doing it.

If you put the finite verb ‘was’ in front of, say, ‘swimming’, we can instantly tell that ONE person did this swimming some time in the past.  If we put the finite verb ‘are’ in front, then we know immediately that the action is taking place right now and that either a number of people ARE doing it… or else the person we are talking to happens to be doing it … ‘you are swimming’.


When we pin down a verb with an ending it becomes a finite verb.  In English certain forms are tied to specific  pronouns – we call it ‘person’ – 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person and indicate whether it is singular or plural.
1st Person   singular –  I walk
2nd person  singular – you walk
3rd person singular  –  he walks

1st person plural     -   we walk
2nd person plural   -  you walk
3rd person plural   -  they walk

To show that an action happened in the past … either years or just seconds ago … the finite verb takes an ending that makes this clear.
I walked, you walked, she or he walked, we walked, you (plural) walked, they walked.
In English, obviously, the same ending is used for all past tense verbs.  In many other languages, however, the speaker needs to learn a different ending for each person in past tense.

So, to reiterate, when we put a subject with a finite verb, we get an independent clause, which is often a complete sentence.
It can be very short but the combination makes it a true sentence. In the examples below the subject is in bold; the verb (or verb group) is in italics. These are all complete sentences.

John sank.
Bill shouted.
Jim edits.
The man who goes to the bar all day is a heavy drinker.
Smiling is a sure sign if happiness.
Shoppers of a certain kind will line up overnight for sales.  


As long as the word order is correct and the question makes sense, a question is considered a complete sentence.  It has a subject and verb even thought they are inverted.

'Can you?'

'Will you go by train or bus?'

'Who is that man over there?'

Commands are bit of oddities, as the subject is sometimes assumed (it's invisible).

'Get off that couch!'   [Here, the subject 'YOU' is silent]

'Look out!'  [again, subject is assumed, and note that commands always carry an exclamation mark.]

Be`warned: Collections of words that are missing either a finite verb or a subject are not true sentences. These are sentence fragments or incomplete sentences. They might be dependent clauses or just phrases
Eg: Swimming, the best of exercise [no finite verb]
Walking down the road, whistling an old song. [no subject]

But it didn't affect me.

While I played my guitar        

what is a dependent clause

The name gives it away, doesn't it? A dependent needs or relies someone, and a dependent  clause relies on an independent clause to give it sense and meaning.

  Let's take the clause 'But he didn't like it much.'     We get some information but it is rather puzzling, as we don't know who 'he' is and we don't know what he was doing.  It needs something else to give it meaning.        

John tried hot yoga, but he didn't like it much.

I gave Bill a taste of my smoked eel, but he didn't like it much.   

Here's another example.

'And then it rained.'

Ok, we know it rained but in the middle of what?

Look what happens when you add an independent clause to it.    

There was a severe drought for three years,  and then it rained.              

We had just finished packing our raincoats for the trip, and then it rained.

We got to the picnic ground, laid out the food, and then it rained.

You will notice that a dependent clause (which is also called a subordinate clause) could be an independent clause except for one little word at the start... it could be 'and' 'but', 'so' or 'because'.

There are other phrases that can't stand alone and have to be tacked on to an independent clause.

For example:

Walking down the road

While in town

over the street

whenever I see him

If what you read raises a question in your mind, then you know it can't be a complete sentence.