Look at the following example

'But she was so tired, she did not finish painting.'

Is the first clause an independent or dependent clause?

If it is an independent clause, should I remove the comma to prevent a comma splice?

fyi, 'So' is used as an adverb of degree, so the latter clause is a result of the former.

  • 2
    It's a stylised cut-down version of She was so tired that she did not finish painting, where the two statements could be seen as "interdependent" components semantically linked by an implied conjunction such as therefore. But your version starts with but, which must somehow refer to something mentioned earlier, so it's not really even an "independent sentence". – FumbleFingers Aug 29 '18 at 16:47
  • Let's say there was an independent clause prior to this. 'She fell behind on her work.' Considering that I am able to start sentences with conjunctions, would the clause 'But she was so tired,' be an independent one? – jamal crowder Aug 29 '18 at 16:55
  • I think designations such as "independent or dependent clause" are only really useful in the context of understanding straightforward examples. Once you start including clauses containing "conjunctive" elements such as but and so that, I don't really see how such simplified categories would help anyone learn how to use English like a native speaker. Perhaps I'm wrong, and you really would be able to gain a better understanding of English by having a definitive answer to your question - if there is one, but I don't and have never needed to know anything like that myself. – FumbleFingers Aug 29 '18 at 17:10
  • I would call it an independent clause since it could be written as two separate sentences. (Assuming that a prior sentence allows it.) The use of the comma seems entirely wrong to me—it looks like a comma splice. If it's meant to be a dependant clause, then but should be replaced (or enhanced) with because, since, or something equivalent in meaning. – Jason Bassford Aug 29 '18 at 20:12

It's a dependent adverb clause, with the whole clause modifying 'finish'. Personally, I'd throw a 'that' in place of the comma.

  • 'But she was so tired that she did not finish painting.' Is this a complex clause or an independent clause (with the comma gone)? – jamal crowder Aug 29 '18 at 17:06
  • That is being used as a conjunction to join the adverb clause to the independent clause, making it a complex sentence. – Carduus Aug 29 '18 at 17:37
  • 2
    -1 This is completely wrong. You can't have a dependent clause that starts with but in this way. For it to make sense, it would need to be something like but because or but she was tired and. – Jason Bassford Aug 29 '18 at 20:14
  • I agree with Jason. You've got the grammar all wrong. – BillJ Aug 30 '18 at 10:12
  • You're acting as though the 'but' is referencing the painting and not the sentence that came before it. It's obviously a stylistic choice to break a sentence apart at the conjunction. Something like: 'She told him she'd have it done by midnight. But she was so tired that she did not finish painting.' – Carduus Aug 30 '18 at 12:54

First, but goes between conjuncts. The but doesn't go with either clause in this sentence;
rather, it connects the whole sentence with whatever came before it. So I will ignore it here.

Second, the rest of the sentence is an example of the so X/such a(n) X that S construction, which links together an independent clause:

  • she was so tired

and a dependent that-clause that identifies her degree of tiredness, referenced to so

  • (that) she did not finish painting.

The that complementizer, of course, is optionally deletable.

The entire sentence (without the but) is an answer to

  • How tired was she?

Since how is the general wh-word for measuring adjectives and adverbs.


[But she was so tired] [(that) she did not finish painting].

There are two clauses here, as shown in square brackets. The first is an independent clause, the second a dependent one where the subordinator “that” can be inserted as shown. The second clause is a declarative content clause functioning as complement of the adjective "tired". Although the clause follows the adjective it complements, it is licensed by the adverb "so" that modifies "tired", and is thus referred to as an indirect complement. A comma is not required.

Note that the coordinator “but” belongs with the first clause. Evidence for this is that the clause can occur on its own. The two clauses might even be spoken by two different people, one responding to what the other said. And when we separate the two clauses like this, the coordinator goes with the second: “I really expected Kim to attend. B: “But she was too tired, wasn't she?”.

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