In the following sentence, which is the independent clause?

Exercising four times a week, doctors claim, can help prevent heart disease.

Is it “Exercising four times a week can help prevent heart disease” or “doctors claim”?

If it were rewritten “Doctors claim that exercising four times a week can help prevent heart disease,” then it’s clearly “Doctors claim.” [UPDATE: Sorry, I should clarify. When I say that “Doctors claim” is the independent clause in the rewritten sentence, what I mean is that “doctors” is the subject, “claim” is the verb, and “that exercising…” is the complement/object.] But I am less certain about the original sentence. What kind of clause is “doctors claim” in that one? Is “Exercising four times…” not the complement/object of that clause?

  • There is still, as far as I'm aware, divided opinion over the analysis of sentences involving speech tags and equivalent. << "Exercising four times a week," doctors claim/have said/say, "can help prevent heart disease." >> Some might treat the speech tag/equivalent as a parenthetical, leaving the matrix sentence as the main clause. But with << “Doctors claim that exercising four times a week can help prevent heart disease,” many (as you say) see the that-clause as the DO of 'Doctors claim', with the whole sentence the main clause. May 16, 2022 at 13:25
  • Glad to hear that I am not alone in my confusion on this!
    – Educator22
    May 16, 2022 at 13:28
  • The only overt candidates for 'independent clause' are 'Exercising four times a week can help prevent heart disease.' and 'Doctors claim that exercising four times a week can help prevent heart disease.' A better analysis looks at whether 'that exercising four times a week can help prevent heart disease' is best considered a DO. If so, this leads to difficulties in the analysis of your original variant. May 16, 2022 at 13:32
  • It could be argued that "exercising four times a week can help prevent heart disease" is a preposed element, a complement clause of the verb "claim". The only other possibility is that it's a supplement, a type of parethentical.
    – BillJ
    May 16, 2022 at 13:52
  • In this case, I think "Doctors claim that X" is a Complex Sentence, where "Doctors claim that" is the Dependent Clause and X is the InDependent Clause. ---- While it is true that "Doctors" can be the Subject and "Claim" can be the Verb, eventually, X can stand by itself and hence it is InDependent. ---- In this new case, "Doctors claim great Victory", there are no InDependent Clauses.
    – Prem
    May 16, 2022 at 14:00

1 Answer 1


There may be some confusion in the question.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_clause :

An independent clause is a clause that can stand by itself as a simple sentence.

Here, this is meaningful :

(A) Exercising four times a week can help prevent heart disease.

This is not meaningful :

(B) Doctors claim.

This is also not meaningful :

(C) Doctors claim that.

I think there is some confusion when OP wrongly claims that (B) is clearly the independent clause.

Clearly, (A) is the independent clause and (B) & (C) are not.

With the Question Post getting updated to include the Query .... :

What kind of clause are (B) & (C) in that Example ?

.... I should add that according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_clause :

These can generally be Content Clauses or Noun Clauses.

  • 1
    Thanks for catching that. I edited my post to clarify what I meant.
    – Educator22
    May 16, 2022 at 13:25
  • The phrase independent clause isn't either clear or useful. Simple sentences are independent clauses. No other clauses are independent in the same sense. In complex and compound clauses, which are the overwhelming majority, no clause is independent, though some are dependent and some are conjoined. One can have a main or matrix clause, but that is not "independent". Get some better terminology before attempting to test it, eh? May 16, 2022 at 15:32
  • 1
    Further, a clause functioning as a dependent may have a main clause rather than a subordinate clause form, as in "The question they need to answer is [why did no one check her references?]
    – BillJ
    May 16, 2022 at 16:18
  • @JohnLawler , I am not sure what you are trying to say, but I did not invent the terminology : Content Clause or Noun Clause terminology seems to have been invented by Jens Otto Harry Jespersen & Dependent + InDependent terminology is listed widely online, in addition to being tags here.
    – Prem
    May 16, 2022 at 18:17
  • @BillJ , I am not sure what you are trying to say ; Is that something more to add to my answer to more fully cover the OP Question ?
    – Prem
    May 16, 2022 at 18:19

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