she was so tired that she couldn’t think. (Oxford)

Oxford says that-clause above is a subordinate clause expressing a result. Semantically ‘she was tired’ seems to be the main clause, but there also is the possibility ‘she couldn’t think’ might be thought as the main one, and ‘she was tired’ is a subordinate expressing the reason of that-clause.

So the words below that do not use ‘subordinate’ sound to be better explanations for the case. Then on what ground does Oxford say the clause is subordinate?

Cambridge: to introduce a clause that gives further information, although it can often be left out. Longman: to introduce a clause that shows the result of something:

  • 4
    Don't look in dictionaries for grammatical information. It isn't there. So/Such X that Y is a construction, not a word that a dictionary can tell you about. The reason it's subordinate is that it starts with a complementizer that, which marks a subordinate tensed clause. Main clauses do not begin with that. – John Lawler Apr 27 '13 at 23:42

The fact (if it is a fact) that it has the most important information is irrelevant; subordinate refers to the clause's syntactic role.

Syntactically, that she couldn't think is only the back half of the so ... that construction, which itself is syntactically the back half - the complement - of the predicate (or Verb Phrase, if you prefer) of the main clause.

Syntactical terminology is about how the pieces fit together, not what they mean. Syntactically the keystone of the entire sentence is was, which doesn't actually mean anything: it's just a hook to hang the tense on.

  • That's putting be in its place nicely! A meaningless essential. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 28 '13 at 8:35
  • @StoneyB, I’ve wondered if the that-clause could be an ‘adjunct.’ And I've found the same case in Adjunct in Wikipedia. It says that-clause in ‘It rained so hard that the streets flooded’ is a ‘ Consecutive adjunct.’ And I guess it also might be classified into ‘Causal adjuncts.’ link – Listenever Apr 28 '13 at 12:35
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    @Listenever I don't much care for that nomenclature. I can't see it as an adjunct because it fills a syntactic role which is not dispensable once the so is in place. I'd rather call it a "complement" of so: the obligatory structure is so [AdjPhr] that [Clause]. And the so X that Y piece is the complement of the verb BE. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 28 '13 at 13:07

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