Hi Everyone,

I know what a phrase is and I know what a subordinate clause is. However, I still grapple with trying to explain the difference between a phrase and a subordinate clause.

I know phrases are prepositional, verb, noun, gerund etc. Is it correct that a subordinate clause simply begins with a subordinate conjunction?


CC Emotion: smile


I think you're teaching traditional grammar, aren't you? (As opposed to modern grammar as presented in CGEL?)

In that case I would say yes, a subordinate clause (at least 99% of them) starts with a subordinate conjunction. Typical examples:

if you would like to take a vacation
when the rest of the students arrive
unless Robert doesn't want to go
although Wendy is never late


Cup cakeIs it correct that a subordinate clause simply begins with a subordinate conjunction?

No, it's not. Many do but quite a few don't:

[1] This is the book he was looking at. [relative clause]

[2] I left before Ed arrived. [declarative content clause]

[3] I know who stole the painting. [interrogative content clause]

[4] I made a mistake in giving him my address. [non-finite clause]

[5] Tell Gill what a bargain it is. [exclamative clause]

[6] More guests attended than had been invited. [comparative clause]

In those examples there is no subordinating conjunction present, but the underlined clauses are nonetheless subordinate.

Sometimes there are ways of telling that they are subordinate, other than simply by virtue of their function in a larger clause. For example, in [1] the underlined clause is marked as subordinate by having a missing NP (noun phrase), the understood object of the preposition "at". And in [4] it is marked as subordinate by having its subject left understood and its verb in gerund-participial form, i.e. untensed.

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Thanks, CJ. I didn't know what CGEL was until reading your post. Naturally, I looked it up immediately.

I still think that 'grammar is grammar is grammar'. I'm sure Gertrude Stein would agree. Lol

Happy Wednesday,

CC Emotion: smile

Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

Nobody knew who she was.

What is the underlined construction?

Traditional grammar: a noun phrase
Modern grammar: an interrogative content clause

I have no idea what Gertrude would say about that. Emotion: smile


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 BillJ's reply was promoted to an answer.

Wow...thanks for your in-depth answer.

Now, I have more questions than first thought. Lol.

I would have thought that in [2] Ed arrived and [5] What a bargin it is, could arguably be full sentences. They are both complete thoughts that make sense. Granted that the meanings change with the balance of content, but nonetheless, they do stand on their own.

Where did you learn your grammar btw?

I'd love to do an advanced grammar course (for teachers), but there is no where here that I could do that. I've been an EAP teacher for the most part (teaching essay writing, literature reviews etc). I float in and out of general English classes.

Thanks BillJ Emotion: smile

Lol...you're always funny CJ.

I would have thought that who she was, is a relative clause.

Obviously, not.


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Cup cakeI would have thought that who she was was a relative clause.

Can't be. No antecedent. A relative clause with 'who' goes like this:

the children who she was looking after
the man who won the prize
the women who climbed the mountain

'who' refers back to the preceding noun, i.e., the antecedent

In my sentence the preceding word was not a noun. knew - verb.


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