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Concourse 2

Subordinating clauses

subordinate

subordinate, adj. (/səˈbɔːdɪnət/): lower in rank or position

It's fairly easy to see who is subordinate and who is superior in the picture.  In this lesson, we'll do it for language.

There are tasks to do in this lesson.  When you see the word Task, stop for a moment and do the exercise.  You will learn more that way.

Basically, there are two ways to join sentences together in English (and most languages):

  1. Coordination: joining equal ideas
    coordination
    For example:
    She came to the party and she met a lot of nice people.
    Both ideas can stand in single sentences:
    She came to the party.  She met a lot of nice people.
    We can take out the linking word (conjunction) and the meaning does not change.
  1. Subordination: joining unequal ideas
    subordination
    For example:
    She came to the party because she wanted to meet a lot of nice people.
    When we take out the linking word, we lose the meaning of why she came to the party.
 

Here, we focus on the second type.  There is a separate lesson about coordinating clauses.


recognise

Recognising the main and subordinate clauses

This is the first step.  When you can recognise which clause is which, we can move on.


think Task 1: Here are some examples.
Can you see which is the main clause and which clause depends for its meaning on the main clause?

For example, in:
I filled up with petrol before I left town
The main clause is:
I filled up with petrol
because that is the main idea
before I left town
is the subordinate clause and
before
is the subordinator because it is tied to the clause I left town.
We can say:
Before I left town, I filled up with petrol
but we cannot say
*I left town I filled up with petrol before

Now you try.  When you have an answer, click on the eye open for the answers.

Sentence Clauses
After he had driven for 4 hours he stopped for coffee
eye open
Main clause:
He stopped for coffee
Subordinate clause:
after he had driven for 4 hours
He couldn't leave until the work was done
eye open
Main clause:
He couldn't leave
Subordinate clause:
until the work was done
Once we've finished we can go for a drink
eye open
Main clause:
we can go for a drink
Subordinate clause:
once we've finished
Considering that he's nearly 80 he's very active
eye open
Main clause:
he's very active
Subordinate clause:
considering he's nearly 80
Seeing that it's under guarantee, I don't worry about it
eye open
Main clause:
I don't worry about it
Subordinate clause:
seeing that it's under guarantee
He came to the meeting although it was his day off
eye open
Main clause:
he came to the meeting
Subordinate clause:
although it was his day off
He's not here as it's his day off
eye open
Main clause:
he's not here
Subordinate clause:
as it's his day off
If you do that, it will break the glass
eye open
Main clause:
it will break the glass
Subordinate clause:
if you do that

In the table, the subordinator is in bold type.


subordinator

The subordinators in English

There are lots of subordinators in English (and most languages) but they all do the same thing.

Here's a list of the most important ones with some examples:

One-word subordinators:

after
although
as
because
before
if
once
till
unless
until
whereas
when(ever)
where(ever)
while
whilst
Some examples:
After he had driven for 4 hours he stopped for coffee
He couldn't leave until the work was done
Before it rains, we should take the dog out
Whenever you want to do the work is fine with me
While / whilst / whereas I have often worked late, Shirley never does
Once we've finished we can go for a drink

Two-word subordinators:

Always with that With and without that Always with as Others Some examples:
in that
so that
in order that
except that
now that
providing that
provided that
supposing that
considering that
given that
assuming that
seeing that
as long as
as soon as
so long as
insofar as
as far as
sooner than
rather than
as if
as though
He did all the work except that he forgot the painting
Now that he's at university, we can rent out his room
Considering that he's nearly 80 he's very active
Insofar as she could she answered all the questions
Assuming that it's open I can get it at the corner shop
I'd rather stay in tonight than go to the party
Seeing that it's under guarantee, I don't worry about it
We can finish today given that we are all working on it


function

What subordinators do

Subordinators make one clause depend for its meaning on the main clause.

the water comes out when you open the tap

Subordinators link a clauses together so we get, for example:
He came to the meeting although he was feeling ill
In this sentence, the main idea is that he came to the meeting.  The subordinate clause is
although he was feeling ill
We can say,
He came to the meeting
and we understand the sentence
but
we can't say
*Although he was feeling ill
because that makes no sense without the main clause.

We can have more than one subordinate clause in a sentence.  For example:
She came to the party because she wanted to talk to him and because she enjoys parties if they are not too large and noisy
Here, we have a main clause:
She came to the party
a subordinate clause:
because she wanted to talk to him
linked to another subordinate clause:
and
because she enjoys parties
with another subordinate conditional clause:
if
they are not too large and noisy

If that's a bit difficult, try a diagram:
complex subordination

difference

The difference between subordinators and coordinators

There is a lesson on using coordinators and, if you do that, you will see that:

  1. It is possible to leave out the subject if it is the same for both clauses so we can have:
    He came home and (he) cooked a meal
  2. It is possible to leave out the subject and the verb if it is the same for both clauses:
    He took the bus and (he took) the train
  3. We can leave out the subject and the auxiliary verb if it is the same for both clauses:
    He can play the piano and (he can) sing beautifully

This is not possible with subordinators so all these are wrong!

  1. *He came to the party because wanted to meet her
    That must be
    He came to the party because he wanted to meet her
  2. *After he got home cooked a meal
    That must be
    After he got home he cooked a meal
  3. *We can connect to the internet so that work together
    That must be
    We can connect to the internet so that we can work together
think Mini-Task: Compare your language with English.
Is it the same?
What can you leave out in your language?
What must you keep?


detail

A little more detail

We will look at the different things that subordinators do and set you some tasks to see if you can put ideas together with the right words.
The tasks are important to help you remember.

clock Task 2: Saying when.
Some subordinators tell us when something happened.  They are:
after, before, now that, once, till, until, when(ever), while, whilst, as soon as
Choose some of these to connect the sentences below, write your sentences and then click here.
  1. He came to the meeting.  He arrived in the building.
  2. We can go home.  The work must be finished.
  3. I was working in the garden.  My wife was reading a book.
  4. I have finished my homework.  I can go out.
if Task 3: Saying if.
Some subordinators tell us what will happen if something else happens.  They are:
if, providing that, provided that, supposing (that), on condition that, unless, as / so long as
Choose some of these to connect the sentences below, write your sentences and then click here.
  1. He will come to the meeting.  His train isn't late.
  2. We can go home.  The work is finished.
  3. I will marry you.  You will give up drinking.
  4. I have finished my homework.  I can go out.
dinosaur Task 4: Saying the unexpected.
Some subordinators tell us what will happen when we don't expect it.  They are:
although, considering (that)
Use both of these to connect the sentences below, write your sentences and then click here.
  1. There was a dinosaur behind us.  He was very calm.
reason Task 5: Giving the reason for something.
There are two sorts:
because, as and seeing that tell us the result of something.
so that and in order that tell us the purpose for doing something.
Choose some of these to connect the sentences below, write your sentences and then click here.
  1. He has arrived.  We can start the meeting.
  2. She made the water hot.  She could have a bath.
compare Task 6: Comparing and contrasting things.
Some subordinators compare things.  They are:
as if, as though
Use both of these to connect the sentences below, write your sentences and then click here.
  1. He used the stone.  He used the stone like a hammer.
  2. I like eating in restaurants.  Mary prefers eating at home.

The conjunctions while and whilst are also used to say when something happens (see above).  The conjunction whereas can only be used to talk about a contrast.
The conjunction but is a coordinator which does the same job but can only come between the two ideas.


practice

Getting more practice


Look again at any writing you have done in English and try to find two things:

  1. Times when you have made two short sentences and one longer sentence with a subordinator would be better.  When you find it, make it better.
  2. Times when you have used the subordinators wrongly.
  3. Take a test on this area.