Textbooks tell you that an independent clause must have a subject, verb and express a complete thought (or stand alone). However, I'm confused why the following examples below are considered to be independent. Yes, they contain a subject-verb set but don't seem to be a complete thought. Actually , to me, they seem to be dependent on the dependent clause to be make sense instead of the other way round. Can someone please clarify this for me so that I can explain it to a gentleman that I am volunteering with.

I realized that he had made a mistake. [realized what?]
He said that he was tired. [said what?]

He said and I realized certainly don't seem to be sentences in my opinion.

  • The words you've put in bold do not form independent clauses. Both of the sentences in their entirety are independent clauses. In other words, each sentence consists of an independent clause and nothing else. There are no dependent clauses there. He said and I realized are nothing more than phrases (or sentence fragments). – Jason Bassford Nov 3 '18 at 20:53
  • @JasonBassford Are you sure? I would have said that in the first sentence, the independent clause was "...he had made a mistake". It is the object of the main sentence "I realised (that)...". Equally "...he was tired" is an independent clause. – WS2 Nov 3 '18 at 22:31
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    I think you're misinterpreting your textbook. A clause does not consist of a subject and a verb and nothing else: it includes any arguments (objects, complements, adjuncts) of the verb. In this the that clauses are objects. – Colin Fine Nov 3 '18 at 22:35
  • @ws2 If the sentence were just "he had made a mistake," then that would be an independent clause. But that's not all that the sentence is—because of "that." You have to look at it in context. – Jason Bassford Nov 3 '18 at 22:41
  • Thanks to everyone for your comments. I'm still confused because I understood that the part ,including that, and the words that follow form a relative clause which depends upon an independent clause to make sense; however, the words in bold don't make sense on their own which is what an independent clause is supposed to do according to what I have read. – John ladner Nov 3 '18 at 23:11

Using "He said that he was tired" for an example, 'that' is not a relative pronoun.

In "I woke the man that was sleeping", or "I took the book [that] he was reading", 'that' is a relative pronoun in a relative clause. '[That]' means that the relative pronoun can be reduced = elided. These clauses have traces, where the noun phrase before the 'that' would be repeated: "I took the book [that] he was reading _the book_.

In "He said [that] he was tired", '[that]' is a subordinator (or relativizer) = conjunction. The clause "that he was tired" is a dependent clause. (It contains what looks like an independent clause, just like "he snores" in "I will wake him if he snores." The real independent clause is "He said" -- if it bothers you that normally transitive 'said' appears to lack an object, you can think of 'that' as doing double duty, so the independent clause is "He said that", (but 'that' must still also be the conjunction of the dependent clause). This is similar to the discourse demonstrative (pronoun) use of 'that', like "He was tired. He said that." -- and that is why 'that' was chosen to be used in these multiple ways, and that can be confusing.


I realized [that he had made a mistake].

He said [that he was tired].

In each of these examples, the main clause is the sentence as a whole and not just “I realized” and “he said”.

Definition-wise, an independent clause is one that is not embedded as a dependent within some larger clause and can typically stand alone as a sentence. Clauses have a subject-predicate structure, though in most non-finite clauses the subject is understood rather than being overtly expressed.

Your examples are of what traditional grammar calls a ‘complex’ sentence, because they contain the bracketed embedded (subordinate) clauses.

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