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Everyone says "dependent clauses are the ones that can't stand alone." I think that's a wrong interpretation of subordinate clauses. By that logic, even independent clauses can't stand alone. Let me explain:

"Rob went to the restaurant because he was hungry."

Of course, "because he was hungry" can't stand alone. But let's look a coordinating conjunction and do the same thing:

"Rob went to the jungle, and he got lost."

Can "and he got lost" stand alone? No. If you leave out the conjunctions, both sentences can stand alone.

So why do they say that?

In my opinion the difference is best put like this: coordinating conjunctions give more weight to one of the clauses, and that's why they are called "independent clauses". Subordinate conjunctions do the opposite.

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  • West is west, and east is east. May 8, 2021 at 18:02
  • @EdwinAshworth "As a result of air pollution, many people die every year." Why is "as a result of air pollution" called a dependent clause in this sentence? Shouldn't a clause have a subject and a verb? And if it's not a clause, why do they call "as a result of" a subordinating conjunction?
    – Askeladd
    May 8, 2021 at 18:51
  • coordinating conjunctions between two sentences have no dependent dependent clauses. The coordinating conjunctions make them into complex sentences.
    – Lambie
    May 8, 2021 at 18:56
  • "Please correct me if I'm wrong." OK. It's true that dependent clauses like because he is hungry can't stand alone. But it's not true that anything that "can't stand alone" is therefore a dependent clause. Note that Rob went to the jungle and also can't stand alone. Neither can went to the; etc. In the event, he got lost is a main clause, and more than one main clause can be joined by and, but, or. That doesn't make them dependent clauses; they're still independent, but they're conjoined clauses; neither is dependent on the other. May 8, 2021 at 19:10
  • @Lambie I think the coordinating conjunctions make them into compound sentences. "Subordinating conjunctions" make them into complex sentences.
    – Askeladd
    May 8, 2021 at 19:14

1 Answer 1

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A dependent clause is clause that is dependent on a larger clause, which is the matrix or main clause. Without the main clause, it cannot stand on its own. For example, "That he is right" is a dependent clause in "I agree that he is right".

However, not all elements that cannot stand on its own are dependent clauses. For example, "Singing a song" cannot stand on its own because it is a verb phrase; it needs a noun phrase subject to form a complete predicate.

There are many reasons why a string of words cannot stand on its on. It could be (1) it is not a constituent: "All of" cannot stand on its own in "I need all of the food" because "all of" does not form a constituent; (2) it needs a complement: "I put a book" cannot stand of its own because it needs an obligatory locative complement to specify where the book was put; or (3) it needs attached to larger clause such as the one you used as an example.

Incidentally, some grammars do not even consider "because he was hungry" as a clause at all. These grammars analyze "because" as a preposition. "Because he was hungry" is therefore a prepositional phrase.

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