Unit 9: More About Clauses: 9.1 Subordinate clauses

Return to contents page

Most passages contain a mixture of MCl and SCl:

Se{ MCl[ SCl[ When she was home from her boarding-school] I used to see her almost every day sometimes SCl[ because their house was right opposite the Town Hall Annexe.]]}

Se{ MCl[ She and her sister used to go in and out a lot.]}Se{ MCl[ SCl[ When I had a free moment from the files and ledgers] I stood by the window] and MCl[ used to look down over the road over the frosting] and MCl[ sometimes I'd see her.]}

John Fowles, The Collector

There are five types of subordinate clauses (subclauses) in the system of grammar we are using: Adverbial Clause [ACl]; Noun Clause [NCl]; Relative Clause [RCl]; Comparative Clause [CCl]; Prepositional Clause [PCl].

We have already seen that SCl's are dependent on MCl's, as indicated by the bracketing conventions:

Se{     MCl     [     SCl     [     ]     ]     }

There are three ways of recognising a SCl:

  1. It is introduced by a subordinating conjunction (see 7.3.2.).
  2. It is introduced by what is called a "wh- element" (who, whom, whose, what, which etc).
  3. It has a non-finite verb (see 6.3.4.). Non-finite verbs occur ONLY in SCl's.

Since they are embedded in a MCl, SCl's function as SPOCA elements within the MCl. They also have internal SPOCA structures of their own. Thus, when you are analysing a complex sentence, you must bracket and label ALL the phrases in the sentence.

Putting information into a SCl often has the effect of BACKGROUNDING that information, ie. making it seem less important than the information in the MCl. There is a general correlation between the level of an element in the rank scale and its importance in a sentence. Thus information conveyed in a phrase is often of lesser importance than that in either a MCl or a SCl.