Section 2.1

Sentence Structure Basics

To understand sentence structure, you must first be able to identify a clause: a group of grammatically related words that includes a subject and a predicate.

A subject is a noun or pronoun that performs the action in a clause or that the clause is about.

The physician called the lab.

The restaurant had no tables available.

The CFO will announce first-quarter results today.

A predicate consists of one or more verbs and accompanying modifiers.


The attorney worked all night on her speech.

Greg’s previous manager accepted a position at a competing firm.

Sue and John have submitted an impressive proposal.

The third example above contains a compound subject consisting of two proper nouns (in other words, names). In addition, all three of the preceding examples are independent clauses. That means they are clauses that can stand alone as sentences.

A second clause type is called dependent, meaning it cannot stand alone. A dependent clause — also known as a subordinate clause — begins with a subordinating conjunction. There are dozens of subordinating conjunctions; the partial list below offers a representative sampling.

after since
although so that
as unless
as if until
because when
before whenever
even though whereas
if while

In each of the following dependent clauses, the subordinating conjunction launches the clause, which also includes a subject and predicate.

Subordinating ConjunctionSubjectPredicate

because he forgot his umbrella

when Ms. Richards called me

until the president arrives

To turn the dependent clauses above into independent clauses, simply remove the subordinating conjunction:

He forgot his umbrella.

Ms. Richards called me.

The president arrives.