Subordinate Conjunction

Subordinate Conjunction :

A clause is a group of words that forms part of a sentence and that contains a subject and a predicate.

A clause used as a part of speech is called a subordinate clause.

A subordinate clause may be introduced by (1) a relative or an interrogative pronoun (2) a relative or an interrogative adverb (3) a subordinate conjunction.

The relative pronouns are who, which, what, that (= who or which), as (after such or same) and the compound relatives whoever, whichever, whatever. Their uses have already been studied.

The chief relative adverbs are where, whence, whither, wherever, when, whenever, while, before, after, till, until, since, as, how, why.

The interrogative pronouns are: who, which, what.

The interrogative adverbs are where, when, whence, whither, how, why.

The most important subordinate conjunctions are: because, since (= because), though, although, if, unless, that (in order that, so that), lest, as, as if, as though, than, whether (whether ... or).

According to their use as parts of speech, subordinate clauses are adjective, adverbial or noun clauses.

Adjective Clause

1. A subordinate clause that modifies a substantive is called an adjective clause.

2. {Able men | Men of ability | Men who show ability} can always find employment.

3. {Treeless spots | Spots without trees | Spots where no trees grew} were plainly visible.

In each of these groups, a noun (men, spots) is modified (1) by an adjective, (2) by an adjective phrase, (3) by an adjective clause. The sense remains unchanged.

Adjective clauses may be introduced (1) by relative pronouns, (2) by relative adverbs of place (where, whence, whither, etc.) or time (when, while, etc.).

Adverbial Clauses

A subordinate clause that serves as an adverbial modifier is called an adverbial clause.

1. Jack spoke {thoughtlessly. | without thinking. | before he thought.}

2. The schoolhouse stands {there. | at the crossroads. | where the roads meet.}

3. We pay our rent {monthly. | on the first of every month. | when the first of the month comes.}

In each of these groups, the verb (spoke, stands, pay) is modified (1) by an adverb, (2) by an adverbial phrase, (3) by an adverbial clause.

Adverbial clauses may be introduced (1) by relative adverbs (when, where, before, etc.); (2) by subordinate conjunctions (if, though, because, etc.); (3) by relative or interrogative pronouns.

Adverbial clauses oftenest modify verbs, but they are also common as modifiers of adjectives and adverbs.

1. Angry because he had failed, he abandoned the undertaking. [The clause modifies angry.]

2. I am uncertain which road I should take. [The clause modifies uncertain.]

3. Farther than eye could see extended the waste of tossing waters. [The clause modifies farther.]

4. Here, where the cliff was steepest, a low wall protected the path. [The clause modifies here.]

An adverbial clause with that may be used to modify verbs and adjectives.

1. He rejoiced that the victory was won.

2. I am glad that you are coming.

3. He was positive that no harm had been done.

4. They were unwilling that the case should be brought to trial.

Note : In this use that is equivalent either to because or to as to the fact that.The clause may be explained as a noun clause in the adverbial objective construction.


A subordinate clause that is used as a noun is called a noun (or substantive) clause.

1. {Agreement | To agree | That we should agree} seemed impossible.

2. {Victory | To win | That we should win} was out of the question.

3. The merchant feared {loss. | to lose. | that he might lose money.}

4. I expect {success. | to succeed. | that I shall succeed.}

In each of these groups a noun (agreement, victory, etc.) is replaced (1) by an infinitive, (2) by a noun clause. In the first two examples, the noun clause is the subject; in the last two, it is the object of a verb (feared, expect).

Noun clauses may be used in any of the more important constructions of nouns……(1) as subject, (2) as direct object of a transitive verb, (3) in apposition with a substantive, (4) as a predicate nominative.

1. That Milton was spared has often caused surprise. [Subject.]

2. Brutus said that Cæsar was a tyrant. [Object of said.]

3. Cæsar commanded that the prisoners should be spared. [Object.]

4. I wish that you would work harder. [Object.]

5. The traveller inquired where he could find the inn. [Object.]

6. He asked me what my name was. [Second object of asked.]

7. My fear that the bridge might fall proved groundless. [Apposition with fear.]

8. One fact is undoubted,—that the state of America has been kept in continual agitation.—Burke. [Apposition with fact.]

9. The old saying is that misery loves company. [Predicate nominative.]

Noun clauses may be introduced (1) by the subordinate conjunctions that, whether (whether ... or), and if (in the sense of whether); (2) by the interrogative pronouns who, which, what (3) by the interrogative adverbs where, whence, whither, how, why, when.

Noun clauses are common as objects of verbs (1) of commanding, desiring, etc. (2) of telling, thinking, etc. (3) of asking, doubting, etc.

Object clauses frequently omit that.

1. Charles said [that] he was sorry.

2. I hope you will come.

3. I wish he would help me.

A noun clause may be used as the retained object of a passive verb.

Active Voice (Clause as Object) …….Passive Voice (Retained Object)

They informed me that the train was late…….I was informed that the train was late.

Charles told us that the ice was thin…….. We were told that the ice was thin.

They asked me whether (or if) I liked tennis. ……..I was asked whether I liked tennis.

A noun clause may be the object of a preposition.

1. I see no reason for a lawsuit except that both parties are stubborn. [Compare: except the stubbornness of both.]

2. She never studies, except when she can find nothing else to do.

3. I could say nothing but [=except] that I was sorry.

4. Justice was well administered in his time, save where the king was party.—Bacon.

5. She could see me from where she stood.

6. There is a dispute as to which of the miners first staked out the claim.

A noun clause can be used as an adverbial objective.

Noun clauses with that are common in the predicate when the expletive it is the grammatical subject.

1. It was plain that war was at hand.

2. It was clear that this administration would last but a very short time.

3. It must be admitted that there were many extenuating circumstances.

4. It was by slow degrees that Fox became a brilliant and powerful debater.

5. It was under the command of a foreign general that the British had triumphed at Minden.

In such sentences the real subject of the thought is the clause. This, however, may be regarded as grammatically in apposition with it, as if one said “It (that war was at hand) was plain.”

Note : This useful idiom enables us to adopt a kind of inverted order and thus to shift the emphasis. Contrast “That war was at hand was plain” with “It was plain that war was at hand.” In the former sentence, the noun clause is made prominent; in the latter, the adjective plain.

The following sentences, taken from distinguished authors of different periods, illustrate the usefulness of the noun clause in its various constructions.

1. That the king would ever again have received Becket into favor is not to be believed. - Southey.

2. That in education we should proceed from the simple to the complex is a truth which has always been to some extent acted on.—Spencer.

3. How great his reputation was, is proved by the embassies sent to him.—Coleridge.

4. It vexed old Hawkins that his counsel was not followed.—Fuller.

5. It became necessary, at last, that I should arouse both master and valet to the expediency of removing the treasure.—Poe.

6. There is no doubt that breeds may be made as different as species in many physiological characteristics.—Huxley.

7. The main definition you could give of old Marquis Mirabeau is, that he was of the pedant species.—Carlyle.

8. The fact seems to be that we have survived the tremendous explosion.—Brougham.

9. The question is, whether the feigned image of poesy, or the regular instruction of philosophy, have the more force in teaching.—Sidney.

10. I feared that some serious disaster had befallen my friend.—Poe.

11. I think with you that the most magnificent object under heaven is the great deep.—Cowper.

12. Aureolus soon discovered that the success of his artifices had only raised up a more determined adversary.—Gibbon.

13. Harold alleged that he was appointed by Edward.—Temple.

14. That we shall die, we know.—Shakspere.

15. Her Majesty has promised that the treaty shall be laid before her Parliament.—Swift.

16. Deerslayer proposed that they should circle the point in the canoe.—Cooper.

17. I remembered how soft was the hand of Sleep.—Landor.

18. I cannot see what objection can justly be made to the practice.—Reynolds.

19. No man knew what was to be expected from this strange tribunal.—Macaulay.

20. We may imagine with what sensations the stupefied Spaniards must have gazed on this horrid spectacle.—Prescott.

21. Observe how graciously Nature instructs her human children.—Coleridge.

22. My friend asked me if there would not be some danger in coming home late.—Addison.

23. A message came that the committee was sitting at Kensington Palace.—Thackeray.

24. Jeffreys had obtained of the king a promise that he would not pardon her.—Burnet.

25. The present age seems pretty well agreed in an opinion that the utmost scope and end of reading is amusement only.—Fielding.

26. He suddenly alarmed me by a startling question—whether I had seen the show of prize cattle that morning in Smithfield.—Lamb.

27. I am told that the Lancashire system is perfect.—Kingsley.

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