Consider these sentences:

"He said that the laptop is shut off."
"He said that the man is strong."

If I am not mistaken, traditional grammar would label everything after "he said..." as a subordinate clause, also called a dependent clause.

However, it appears to me that if you chose to consider the word "that" as a type of "connection word" (which might even be omitted) what follows looks remarkably like an independent clause.

"The laptop is shut off."
"The man is strong."

The problem is with the definitions of "dependent clause", found basically everywhere:


A dependent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and verb but does not express a complete thought. A dependent clause cannot be a sentence.


A dependent clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. It does not express a complete thought so it is not a sentence and can't stand alone.


A dependent clause is one that cannot stand alone as a sentence. A dependent clause will function as an adjective, and adverb, or a noun. A dependent clause ...

Yet, those phrases "The laptop is shut off." or "The man is strong." do appear to express complete thoughts, and could be sentences.

How can you say "The laptop is shut off" (or any other statement spoken by a person).. "can't stand alone" or "does not express a complete thought"? They look like fully complete independent clauses.

"The sky is blue". "He said the sky is blue." The dependent clause obviously could stand alone.

Are the definitions of "dependent clauses" misleading?

  • Try to read your references carefully; sometimes they do provide a little detail that is the key to your question. In your first reference: Dependent Marker Word • A dependent marker word is a word added to the beginning of an independent clause that makes it into a dependent clause.
    – LPH
    Commented Oct 4, 2020 at 22:12
  • 2
    This is the problem with definitions of grammatical terms in non-grammatical terms. Language is not the same thing as thought. And "it does not appear to express a complete thought" is not a definition to take seriously. How does one test the completeness of the thought? And how does one identify the thought in the first place, especially if it isn't "complete"? Total nonsense. Don't pay any attention. A dependent clause is a clause that is part of a larger sentence; it has its own verb and subject, but it isn't the main clause. Commented Oct 4, 2020 at 22:27
  • The that is part of the dependent clause, even if you can elide it ("zero that"). That the laptop is shut off is clearly not a main clause, not a sentence. Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 5:06

2 Answers 2


The definitions given are misleading.

Try the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar p399 definition of subordinate clause

subordinate (adj.) (Pronounced /səˈbɔːdɪnət/.) Grammatically *dependent. Contrasted variously with *coordinate, *independent, and *superordinate.

subordinate clause: a *clause that is dependent on, or forms part of, another clause, *phrase, or sentence element. Subordinate clauses can be classified in different ways, e.g. as being *finite, *non-finite, or *verbless, e.g.

They think that the swimming pool is open today (finite **that*-clause)

They want to eat pizza tonight (non-finite **to*-infinitive clause)

With you here, things will be easier (verbless)

Traditional grammar recognized three types of subordinate clause:

(i) *adverbial clauses, e.g. I was surprised, because it was so unexpected

(ii) *nominal clauses, e.g. It was odd that he didn’t telephone

This includes *nominal relative clauses, e.g. I was surprised by what you said

(iii) *relative clauses, e.g. The news (that) you gave us is very odd

In more recent frameworks (e.g. CaGEL, OMEG) three kinds of finite subordinate clause are recognized, namely *content clauses, relative clauses, and comparative clauses. Non-finite clauses are classified into **to-infinitive clauses, bare infinitive clauses, -ed clauses, and -ing clauses.

Another kind of clause that is sometimes classified as subordinate is the *comment clause, e.g.

We will, I think, see a lot more of him soon

The above manages to define the concept just fine without recourse to such nebulous concepts as 'complete sentence', 'complete thought', and also has no mention of a subject being required.

Also, p115 dependent element

dependent element, phrase, clause, etc.: any unit other than the *head within a *phrase, e.g. a *modifying phrase inside another phrase (the dead rat); a subordinate clause functioning as *complement of a verb (I think that it’s too late for coffee), etc.



"He said that the laptop is shut off," "He said that the man is strong" [...] "He said the sky is blue."

everything after "he said..." is a noun clause. The Danish Grammarian Otto Jesperson called these "content clauses". In your example, they are all the object of the verb "said"

They are not subordinate to anything any more than in "He hit the man", "man" is subordinate to anything.

Wikipedia has an article on content clauses

In English, there are two main kinds of content clauses: declarative content clauses (or that-clauses), which correspond to declarative sentences, and interrogative content clauses, which correspond to interrogative sentences.

Declarative content clauses can have a number of different grammatical roles. They often serve as direct objects of verbs of reporting, cognition, perception, and so on.

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