Independent Clauses: Definition and Examples of a Main Clause

By Carly Forsaith, updated on September 1, 2023

If you want to learn about independent clauses but aren't sure where to start, you've come to the right place. We all use independent clauses in our writing all the time, even if we don't realize it. This article will teach you everything you need to know about them and how to use them correctly.

In short:

  • An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate and forms a complete thought. An independent clause is a full sentence.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Independent Clauses?

There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent. In this article, we'll be focusing on independent clauses—also known as main clauses—which are sentences that contain a subject and a predicate and express a complete thought, which means they can stand on their own. 

All a sentence needs to be complete is one independent clause. But you'll also find sentences that contain multiple independent clauses or even a mix of independent and dependent clauses.

Here's an example of an independent clause:

I was in the middle of cooking dinner.

'I' is the subject, and 'was' is the predicate. The presence of these two parts of sentence is the first indicator that it is indeed an independent clause. 

The thing is, dependent clauses also contain a subject and a predicate, so how do we tell them apart? The answer is that a dependent clause will begin with a transition word or subordinating conjunction.

Here's an example:

When he walked in.

This sentence can't stand on its own because of the conjunction 'when.' But it can be attached to the independent clause "I was in the middle of cooking dinner." to form a complete sentence—a complex sentence, to be specific, which brings me to my next point.

Sentence Structure Types

There are four different types of sentence structure in the English language, all of them requiring at least one independent clause.

They are:

Simple sentences contain just one independent clause, so that's easy enough. We saw an example of one of those earlier, but here's another one for good measure:

My favorite color has always been red. 

To get a compound sentence, you combine two independent clauses. To combine them, you can use either a semicolon or a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

For instance:

My favorite color has always been red, but these days I seem to be wearing a lot of pink.

To make a complex sentence, you need at least one independent and one dependent clause. You can join them together using subordinating conjunctions.

Here are two examples of the same sentence but with the clauses in a different order:

Since I was a child, my favorite color has always been red.

My favorite color has always been red, since I was a child. 

A compound-complex sentence comprises at least two independent clauses and one dependent clause.

Here's an example:

Since I was a child, my favorite color has always been red; these days I seem to be wearing a lot of pink.

Correct punctuation is always important, but it's especially so with compound-complex sentences because they can get quite long.

Examples of Independent Clauses

Now that we've covered what independent clauses are and how to use them to create different types of sentences let's take a look at some more examples.

You'll find them underlined in the sentences below:

There are some rough neighborhoods in this area.

I've never been there before so I'll need to look up some fun activities.

We can't bake the cake because I don't have any flour

The value of my house has decreased, nevertheless I'd like to sell it.

Although he enjoys the occasional social event, he's definitely an introvert.

When I get home I'm taking a nap

She hasn't sustained any internal injuries; she should recover pretty quickly, however she'll need lots of support. 

Even though she said no, you should still be glad I asked her out because that took a lof of courage.

These bi-monthly meetings are taking longer and longer.

We got there in the end; however, it wasn't easy.

Common Errors With Independent Clauses

When using independent clauses in your writing, it's essential to use the correct punctuation. Otherwise, you risk committing some of these common errors:

  • comma splices
  • sentence fragments
  • fused sentences

Comma splices are when you use a comma to join two independent sentences. It'll look something like this:

This dress doesn't suit me, it's not my color. 

The correct way to join them is with a semicolon or by separating them with a period, thereby making them two separate sentences. You could also make the second clause dependent by adding a subordinating conjunction or other marker word. The result will be one of these sentences, which are all correct:

This dress doesn't suit me; it's not my color. 

This dress doesn't suit me. It's not my color. 

This dress doesn't suit me because it's not my color. 

Sentence fragments are dependent clauses that are treated as independent.

For example:

Unless you're ready to leave now. 

You can fix these by adding the elements needed to make it a complete thought or removing the marker word altogether.

We're going to be late, unless you're ready to leave now.

You're ready to leave now. 

Fused sentences happen when there's no punctuation at all and no conjunctions, either.

Here's an example:

It hasn't rained in weeks all my plants are dying. 

The way to fix this is the same as with comma splices: you can add the appropriate punctuation or split the clauses into two separate sentences. You could also add in a conjunction.

It hasn't rained in weeks; all my plants are dying. 

It hasn't rained in weeks. All my plants are dying

It hasn't rained in weeks so all my plants are dying. 

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on independent clauses. I hope you found it useful and that you feel confident about using them in your writing.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Independent clauses are sentences that express a complete thought and can, therefore, stand on their own.
  • They must contain a subject and a predicate. 
  • You can make four types of sentence structure with independent clauses: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. 
  • Watch out for the three common errors: comma splices, sentence fragments, and fused sentences.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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