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so I came across this sentence: Before the invention of the printing press, books were very expensive.

I know that “books were very expensive” is the independent clause, but what about “before the invention of the printing press”? Is that a dependent clause? The way I understand clauses is that they need verbs, but that expression has no verb. So is this a simple sentence or a complex sentence? Thanks!

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    Introductory prepositional phrase you got there. Before long, books were cheap to print. With movable type, type could be moved. Mar 9, 2022 at 21:45
  • so is it simple or complex? I take it you are saying it is simple then?
    – meepyer
    Mar 9, 2022 at 22:12
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    Before the invention of the printing press can be considered a nominalization of before the printing press was invented, which is clearly a subordinate clause. This is why people like transformational grammars, which relate sentences like that. The ideas don't help with the concepts like "complex sentence" that they teach in grade schools, just like calculus doesn't help with arithmetic. Mar 9, 2022 at 22:19
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    "Before the invention of the printing press" is a PP headed by the prep "before". And "before the printing press was invented" is not a clause but also a PP, again headed by the prep "before" with a content clause as complement.
    – BillJ
    Mar 10, 2022 at 12:20
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    @meepyer To learn what I'm talking about, you can try my responses here, or McCawley's syntax book. Mar 13, 2022 at 1:07

2 Answers 2

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Before the invention of the printing press, books were very expensive.

"Books were very expensive" is not an independent clause but just part of a clause, which in this case is the sentence as a whole.

"Before" is a preposition, thus "before the invention of the printing press" is a preposition phrase functioning as a temporal adjunct.

If you really must categorise the sentence as simple or complex, then it's a simple one since there is only one clause.

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Simple Sentence- Before the invention of the printing press, books were very expensive.

(A clause has a subject and a verb.)

Complex Sentence- Before the printing press was invented, books were very expensive.

Main/Principal Clause- Books were very expensive.

Subordinate/Dependent Clause- Before the printing press was invented.

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    I agree with the first part of what you say, but not the second. In the sentence Before the printing press was invented, books were very expensive the matrix (main) clause is the whole sentence, and "books were very expensive" is just part of it. "Before" is a preposition and the expression "before the printing press was invented" is thus a preposition phrase functioning as a temporal adjunct.
    – BillJ
    Mar 10, 2022 at 8:25
  • 'Before the printing press was invented' is a clause, not a phrase. A clause has a subject and a verb while a phrase does not have a subject and a verb. Mar 10, 2022 at 15:33
  • No: it's a PP with the prep "before" as head with clause "the printing press was invented" functioning as its complement. Note that modern grammar regards "before" as a preposition, even when it has a clausal complement.
    – BillJ
    Mar 10, 2022 at 16:02
  • OK. Can we call it a clause? Mar 10, 2022 at 16:06
  • Trad grammar treats "before" as a subordinator (or subordinating conjunction) and thus the whole expression as a clause with the verb "was" as head. But according to modern grammar, "before" is best treated as a preposition, functioning here as head of the phrase before the printing press was invented. It's thus a preposition phrase, not a clause, even though the head "before" has a clause (as opposed to a noun) as its complement.
    – BillJ
    Mar 10, 2022 at 20:08

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