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Identifying Independent and Dependent Clauses
When you want to use commas and semicolons in sentences and when you are concerned about whether a sentence is or is not a fragment, a good way to start is to be able to recognize dependent and independent clauses. The definitions offered below will help you with this.
An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought. An independent clause is a sentence.
Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz.
A dependent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and verb but does not express a complete thought. A dependent clause cannot be a sentence. Often a dependent clause is marked by a dependent marker word.
When Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz . . . (What happened when he studied? The thought is incomplete.)
Dependent Marker Word
A dependent marker word is a word added to the beginning of an independent clause that makes it into a dependent clause.
When Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz, it was very noisy.
Some common dependent markers are: after, although, as, as if, because, before, even if, even though, if, in order to, since, though, unless, until, whatever, when, whenever, whether, andwhile.
Connecting dependent and independent clauses
There are two types of words that can be used as connectors at the beginning of an independent clause: coordinating conjunctions and independent marker words.
1. Coordinating Conjunction
The seven coordinating conjunctions used as connecting words at the beginning of an independent clause are and, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet. When the second independent clause in a sentence begins with a coordinating conjunction, a comma is needed before the coordinating conjunction:
Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz, but it was hard to concentrate because of the noise.
2. Independent Marker Word
An independent marker word is a connecting word used at the beginning of an independent clause. These words can always begin a sentence that can stand alone. When the second independent clause in a sentence has an independent marker word, a semicolon is needed before the independent marker word.
Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz; however, it was hard to concentrate because of the noise.
Some common independent markers are: also, consequently, furthermore, however, moreover, nevertheless, and therefore.
Some Common Errors to Avoid
A comma splice is the use of a comma between two independent clauses. You can usually fix the error by changing the comma to a period and therefore making the two clauses into two separate sentences, by changing the comma to a semicolon, or by making one clause dependent by inserting a dependent marker word in front of it.
Incorrect: I like this class, it is very interesting.
- Correct: I like this class. It is very interesting.
- (or) I like this class; it is very interesting.
- (or) I like this class, and it is very interesting.
- (or) I like this class because it is very interesting.
- (or) Because it is very interesting, I like this class.
Fused sentences happen when there are two independent clauses not separated by any form of punctuation. This error is also known as a run-on sentence. The error can sometimes be corrected by adding a period, semicolon, or colon to separate the two sentences.
Incorrect: My professor is intelligent I’ve learned a lot from her.
- Correct: My professor is intelligent. I’ve learned a lot from her.
- (or) My professor is intelligent; I’ve learned a lot from her.
- (or) My professor is intelligent, and I’ve learned a lot from her.
- (or) My professor is intelligent; moreover, I’ve learned a lot from her.
Sentence fragments happen by treating a dependent clause or other incomplete thought as a complete sentence. You can usually fix this error by combining it with another sentence to make a complete thought or by removing the dependent marker.
Incorrect: Because I forgot the exam was today.
- Correct: Because I forgot the exam was today, I didn’t study.
- (or) I forgot the exam was today.
How to avoid
Run-ons, comma splices, and fused sentences are all names given to compound sentences that are not punctuated correctly. The best way to avoid such errors is to punctuate compound sentences correctly by using one or the other of these rules.
- Join the two independent clauses with one of the coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet), and use a comma before the connecting word.
_________________________, and _________________________.
He enjoys walking through the country, and he often goes backpacking on his vacations.
- When you do not have a connecting word (or when you use a connecting word other than and, but, for, or nor, so, or yet between the two independent clauses) use a semicolon (;).
He often watched TV when there were only reruns; she preferred to read instead.
He often watched TV when there were only reruns; however, she preferred to read instead.
So, run-ons and fused sentences are terms describing two independent clauses which are joined together with no connecting word or punctuation to separate the clauses.
INCORRECT: They weren’t dangerous criminals they were detectives in disguise.
CORRECT: They weren’t dangerous criminals; they were detectives in disguise.
INCORRECT: I didn’t know which job I wanted I was too confused to decide.
CORRECT: I didn’t know which job I wanted, and I was too confused to decide.