There are several definitions related to clauses in my textbook that am a little confused about, and I would greatly appreciate some clarification.

Here are the definitions:

  1. Clause. A group of words which contains a subject and a verb but is in itself not a complete sentence, but a part of a complex or compound sentence.

  2. A complex sentence is a sentence which contains at least one dependent and one independent clause.

    While we were away, our house was robbed.

  3. An independent clause is a main clause, one that is not subordinate.

In the example given in definition 2, we have a dependent clause ("While we were away") and an independent clause ("our house was robbed.") It seems to me that the independent clause can stand on its own as a sentence ("Our house was robbed.")

However, it looks like based on definition 1, this would not qualify as a clause, since it is itself a complete sentence and is not part of a complex or compound sentence.

Is it correct to say that when an independent clause stands on its own, it is not considered a clause? If so, is it considered anything besides "a sentence"?


  • 2
    It's considered a clause even if it doesn't stand on its own. Both dependent and independent clauses are still clauses. (The first definition you give is wrong. It looks to me as if it was supposed to be defining dependent clause and the first word was mistakenly omitted.) Oct 8, 2019 at 3:32
  • If removed from the sentence, "our house was robbed" could stand alone as a main clause, but in the sentence "While we were away, our house was robbed", it is just part of a larger clause. Compare "Ed said he was hungry", where "he was hungry" could potentially stand alone as an independent clause, but in that sentence it is actually a dependent (subordinate) clause. Thus, it's important to distinguish the role of a particular sequence of words in a sentence from the role those words could potentially play elsewhere
    – BillJ
    Oct 8, 2019 at 7:13
  • @JasonBassford Would you say, then, that he sentence "I am." consists of one independent clause? I've always thought of a verb and its subject with no subordinate clauses or phrases as a 'sentence' rather than a 'sentence consisting of a single clause'; have I misunderstood the defintion of 'a sentence' all these years?
    – BoldBen
    Oct 8, 2019 at 10:28
  • 1
    "I am" is a sentence consisting of a single clause. What else could it be?
    – BillJ
    Oct 8, 2019 at 11:43
  • @BoldBen A sentence always has at least one clause. That's how both clause and sentence are defined. A sentence fragment, on the other hand, doesn't need to have a clause at all—but neither is it a complete sentence in a strict sense. I am. That is both a single clause and a sentence. Are you suggesting it's something else? Oct 8, 2019 at 11:48

1 Answer 1


An independent clause, by definition, can stand alone as a sentence.

By definition, a sentence must have at least ONE independent clause to be considered a sentence.

A SIMPLE sentence has ONE and ONLY ONE independent clause.

A COMPLEX sentence has ONE independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

A COMPOUND sentence has TWO or more independent clauses.

A COMPLEX-COMPOUND sentence has TWO or more independent clauses with at least ONE dependent clause.

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