Grammar: Subordinate Clauses

Grammar in EAP

Subordinate clauses/embedding


In a simple English sentence, a single word or phrase functions as a subject or object or complement in a clause. However, in academic English, both spoken and written, these simple units are often expanded in various ways to form complex sentences.This enables the writer to add further information to the sentence. This involves subordination or embedding. In this case a clause – or simple sentence – can function as an element of another clause or group. See: Noun-based Phrases for more information on complex nominal groups.

Downing & Locke (2006, p. 28) identify various types of embedding: (the embedded clause is enclosed in square brackets):

clause as subject

[That the British eventually accepted the American view in most details] shows that they had largely subsumed the aviation issue in the larger question of economic viability

clause as direct object

China was so remote from Europe that when silk first became available for the wealthier classes in Imperial Rome no one knew [where it came from].

clause as complement in a prepositional phrase

Marx’s theory about [what causes the historical process] has been very widely discussed.

clause as a post-modifier in a nominal group

The pressure to succeed as an individual made most women believe that the problems [they encountered] were probably of their own making.

clause as adjunct

[After the western ruler Honorius had refused the province of Noricum to the Visigothic king], the latter marched with his troops on Rome in the year 410 and sacked the “Eternal City”.

Relative Clauses

Relative clause are commonly used in these contexts.

Using “which”:

There are several factors which help to prolong this period to perhaps three or four times that in the male.

The other way in which the economic aspects of military expenditure were presented was in the form of the public expenditure costs.

The family establishes a variety of bases for refuges which seem to be used at different times of the year.

Using “that”:

Another major problem that we must consider is the possibility that the continuing rhythmicity is not due to the body clock.

Using “where”:

Viscosity means any tendency for individuals to continue living close to the place where they were born.

Using “who”:

There are thousands of people who can adjust the plans of houses to their own perfect satisfaction and convenience.

Using “when”:

The vastly accelerated logging rates occurred at a time when national economic readjustment had greatly reduced Ghana’s forestry administration capability.

Using “why”:

The problem of the evolution of recombination is to explain why genes such as R have been favoured by natural selection.

Using “whose”:

Recently a new group of drugs have been used with considerable success against generalized viral illness, particularly in people whose natural defence mechanisms are below par.

Using no relative pronoun (Φ).

The government disagreed with most of the points [Φ the minister raised].

 Or using a mixture:

This means that although the State is an external, exploitative body, it is not seen as such by the people who, on the contrary, see it as a kind of beneficent organism which “gives” them the land on which they depend.

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