I'm getting perplexed searching "how many types of clause ....?" Because different websites are giving different answers. I am thinking about taking it as, may be there are two types: Independent and Dependent But then what is principal clause and coordinate clause and also is non finite another division?

I am more confused by reading their definitions. Independent and principal clause seems to be same. Are they really same?

Does anybody know any article/blog where I can get clear my conception regarding this topic?

  • 5
    This is kind of like asking "how many kinds of sandwiches are there?" You can divide up clauses in many different ways, some more fine-grained than others.
    – alphabet
    Mar 25, 2023 at 17:43
  • 1
    A principal clause is that part, which alone can make a complete sense, which is independent. It has a main (finite) verb. As in “I saw the boy who was buying chocolates”, the part “I saw the boy” alone can make a sense. Therefore it is the principal clause. That text doesn't look like it was written by a native speaker, but it should be clear enough. Mar 25, 2023 at 18:30
  • 2
    And, as FF demonstrates, the terminology is not the same for everybody, as I mentioned at the end of my response below. I didn't get into "principal" or "independent" clauses; the top clause of the stack is the main, matrix, or principal clause, because it dominates everything else in the sentence and limits their meaning and grammatical choices. I also didn't mention auxiliary verbs or complementizers. Along with many other topics. In this response, at least. Mar 26, 2023 at 16:25
  • 1
    As long as they refer to the same clauses, I don't care what they call them. And they learn to call them different things all over the globe, for whatever reasons. That's why I made sure to assert my responsibility for the terminological systems I use. Mar 26, 2023 at 21:57
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers That entire page is horrendous. It seems to be written by someone with a poor grasp of English, so I wouldn't rely on it for any kind of grammar advice. Mar 27, 2023 at 1:39

3 Answers 3


A clause is a sentence constituent that has a subject phrase and a verb phrase.

What is called in grammar school a "simple sentence" is just one clause, with just one subject phrase and one verb phrase. So clauses and simple sentences get confused. The sentence is the one with the period. Clauses can get stacked up, though, and most sentences contain more than one.

Sentences that contain more than one clause are called "complex sentences" and they're by far the majority of English sentences. We stop using simple sentences about 3rd grade. Everything after that is lots more complex.

So, about types of clauses: you can categorize them lots of ways, as @alphabet points out:

  • clauses can be tensed (present or past tense inflection on verb),
    or untensed (infinitives, participles, gerunds)
    for instance, He told me that he was coming (tensed) vs He told me what to do (untensed).

  • clauses always have a verb phrase (wherever there's a verb, there's a clause),
    but untensed clauses may or may not have a subject phrase present.
    Tensed clauses always have subjects (*He said was coming is ungrammatical)

  • clauses can also be categorized by how they react with other constituents in a sentence.

    • they can act like adverbs (adverb clauses) and modify sentences:
      When they arrive, I'll put their coats in the bedroom
    • they can act like adjectives (adjective clauses) and modify nouns; there are 2 kinds of these clauses:
      1. noun complement clauses, modifying "picture nouns":
        the rumor that Bill was arrested
      2. relative clauses, either restrictive like the man who came to dinner,
        or non-restrictive, like my sister, who lives in Arizona
  • clauses can also be categorized by how they're formed. For instance, there are four type of complement clauses (aka noun clauses, usually used as subject or object clauses, boldfaced below). (1) and (2) are tensed complement clause types; (3) and (4) are untensed.

    1. That-clauses:
      That you feel that way is embarrassing; She knows that you feel that way
    2. Embedded Wh-questions:
      What you want to do is your business; I'm not sure what you want to do.
    3. Infinitive clauses:
      To tell everyone the story is not my job; I instructed him to tell everyone the story.
    4. Gerund clauses:
      Telling everyone the story is not my job; I enjoyed his telling everyone the story.

This is the terminology I use. It won't be the same for all linguists. But it is consistent, and you can find it used in all my posts here.


Types of clause can first be categorised as follows:

Declarative - making a statement [You are very tactful.]

Closed interrogative - asking a closed question [Are you very tactful?]

Open interrogative - asking an open question [How tactful are you?]

Exclamative - making an exclamatory statement [How tactful you are!]

Imperative [Be very tactful.]

Those are the major clause types with their corresponding default speech acts.

At a lower level, clauses can be further divided into two major categories; main and subordinate:

Main clause types:

Declarative [Ed is in London.]

Closed interrogative [Is Ed ill?]

Open interrogative [What does Ed want?]

Exclamative [What a fool Ed is!]

Subordinate clause types:

Declarative [He says [that Ed is in London].]

Closed interrogative [I wonder [whether Ed is in London].]

Open interrogative [Tell me [what Ed wants].]

Exclamative [Tell Ed [what a fool he is].]

Those are the main divisions at a higher level. At a lower level, subordinate clauses include relative and comparative, and finite vs non-finite. These are quite complex clause types, and you will need to research them yourself!


I am more confused by reading their definitions. Independent and principal clause seems to be same. Are they really same?

These clauses are also often called principal, verbal, matrix, superordinate or main clauses: See Linguistics Girl .

Consisting of a subject and a predicate, clauses are the smallest grammatical unit that can express a complete proposition. Verb clauses are the only independent clauses in the English language. Some grammars use the terms main clause, matrix clause, independent clause, and superordinate clause for verb clauses.

All verb clauses are finite. A finite clause contains a finite, or conjugated, verb phrase functioning as a predicate.

Finite verb phrases express person (first, second, third), number (singular, plural), and tense (present, past).

(I suggest you read the whole article. The term “verbal clause” is useful as it explains why sentence adverbs are adverbs, e.g. “Fortunately (adv.), he was unhurt (verbal clause).” )

A verbal clause might have a subordinate clause within it: “I saw the boy that stole the cake.Subordinate clauses do not make sense on their own:

If you approached a stranger and said only "that stole the cake", then the stranger would not know what you meant.

(If you approached a stranger and said only "I saw the boy", then the stranger would know that you had seen a certain boy (although he would not know which boy.)

The problems are

(i) there are several grammars and they have their own terms.

(ii) the adjectives used to modify “clause” describe either

a. The form of the clause – relative clause, independent clause, subordinate clause, coordinate clause, principle, independent or main clause, etc.

b. The function of the clause – Adverbial clause, adjectival clause, noun clause.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.