I don't understand the grammar of "meaning" in this example sentence:

Cats are carnivores, meaning they hunt prey.

That are two independent clauses, right? And obviously the "meaning" combines them somehow.

However I can't find the name of this type of grammar? In which cases is something like that possible?

  • 2
    It means the same thing as "Cats are carnivores, which means that they hunt prey."
    – BobRodes
    May 25, 2015 at 21:10
  • 1
    What precedes the comma is an independent clause; what follows the comma is a dependent (or subordinate) clause which modifies the independent clause to which it is attached. Only clauses with finite (tensed) verbs can be independent, and even those may not be if they act as modifiers or complements. May 25, 2015 at 21:56
  • Relative clauses can be shortened by using the participle instead of relative pronoun and verb.
    – rogermue
    May 26, 2015 at 16:02

1 Answer 1


There are two separate clauses, but they are not both independent clauses in this sentence. 

Yes, there is a way to make an otherwise independent clause dependent and attach it to another clause.  We can use the label "subordinating conjunction" to describe the word that does this job.  We can use the label "matrix clause" to describe a clause which contains another clause. 

Animals are carnivores if they hunt prey. 

In this sentence, "if they hunt prey" is a subordinate, or dependent, clause.  The subordinating conjunction "if" allows the subordinate clause to act as an adverbial modifier in the matrix clause. 

The grammar of your example sentence is slightly more complicated.  The word "meaning" isn't considered a subordinating conjunction.  Instead, it is a participle. 

Cats are carnivores, meaning [that] they hunt prey.

In your sentence, the clause "they hunt prey" remains a subordinate clause.  Without the "if", this clause is nominative rather than adverbial.  There is an implied subordinating conjunction: "that they hunt prey."

The nominative clause is the direct object of the participle.  In turn, the entire participial phrase is a modifier in the matrix clause. 

Participles don't have tense, despite the fact that the two participle forms are called "present participle" and "past participle".  The other tense-free forms in English are the gerund and the infinitive.  This entire group is called non-finite.  Another thing that non-finite verb forms have in common is that they do not require a subject.

We can achieve a similar effect by using another subordinate clause (with its own subordinating conjunction) that does have a tense. 

Cats are carnivores, which means [that] they hunt prey.

The "means" of this sentence is in the present tense.  The relative pronoun "which" is the subject of this verb, and it also allows this clause to modify the word "carnivores".  The inner clause "[that] they hunt prey" remains the direct object of the verb "means". 

Wikipedia has an overview of participles here.

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