Dependent clauses, etc.

From: Ronald Ross (
Date: Thu Mar 06 1997 - 01:13:37 EST

Andrew Kulikovsky wrote:
> Fellow Greeks,
> Often I see various scholars on this list using the terms:
> - dependent clauses
> - subordinate clauses
> - relative clauses
> and various others.
> For the benefit of the little Greeks (like me!), could someone please
> explain what is meant by these terms, giving examples if possible, how
> they can be recognised and what the semantic and exegetical implications
> are of these clauses....

I'll take a shot at it and I'll attempt to be theoretically as neutral
as possible. But I obviously can't, given the format, approach
completeness. Let me begin by saying that generally 'dependent clause'
and 'subordinate clause' and synonymous and that they refer to clauses
that are inside of (and depend on or are subordinate to) other --main--
clauses. These dependent clauses can carry out a variety of syntactic
functions. Noun clauses act like nouns, and thus can have the role of
subject of a main verb or object of a main verb. Adjective clauses (also
known as relative clauses), will usually modify a noun or noun phrase.
And adverbial clauses usually modify verbs or verb phrases. I will
enclose subordinate clauses in [ ].

(1) [That you are here] is very important.

In example (1) the subordinate clause is a noun clause functioning as a
subject. Because these subjects are often rather long, they are
frequently placed after the verb (where 'heavier' elements tend to
gravitate) as can be seen in example 2.

2 It is very important [that you are here].

English requires that something be in the subject position, so if the
real subject is moved to the end, then 'it' is included to fill the
subject position.

Noun clauses can also be objects of the main verb, as in (3):

(3) I don't like [that she told you that]

In all of the examples so far, the main clause and the dependent clause
are joined by means of the subordinator (traditionally called
'conjunction') THAT. But they can been joined many other ways as well
('I don't like [FOR her TO be here]', 'Jack wants you [to come]. In
Greek, the typical subordinators are words like hINA, hOTI, hOPWS, MH, a
bare infinitive (for example, with a main verb like QELW when it and the
dependent verb have the same subject), and numerous other ways I'm not
thinking of right now.

I will deal with relative clauses for a minute. But it is getting late
. . . Relative or adjective clauses usually modify a noun or noun
phrase and make with it a bigger noun phrase. They work just like
adjectives. One way to look at relative clauses is to say that no
language has infinite adjectives as single words, but with relative
clauses they do!

(4) {The nuns [who burned down the tavern]} were from across town.

All of the material between braces {. . .} is the subject of the
sentence. But inside that subject is a relative clause that modifies,
specifies, describes WHICH nuns from all possible nuns we are talking
about. There is no single adjective that means [who burned down the
tavern], so we make up an adjective clause which can be as precise as
we need it to be ([who burned down that green tavern on 51st street] . .
.). Relative clauses often begin with relative pronouns: WHO, WHOM,
WHOSE or in Greek hOS, hOU, hW, hON, etc. But they don't always. Both
Greek and English also have participial relative clauses (although most
Greek grammarians don't recognize them as such). Their form is somewhat
different, but their function is exactly the same as the others.

(5) {The boys [eating hamburgers]} are my nephews.

Everything between the braces {. . .} is the subject. [eating
hamburgers] is the relative clause. It tells which boys I'm talking
about. Participial relative clause are extremely common in Greek, and
they are NEVER preceded by relative pronouns. Relative clauses can also
modify nouns that are not subjects.

(6) The police arrested {the boys [eating hamburgers]}.

Here, everything between braces { } is the direct object, which is
modified by the relative clause between brackets.

It is impossible to do relative clauses justice in less the 40 pages,
much less subordinate clauses as a whole. This is the best I can do
tonight. I would recommend Talmy Givon's English Grammar: A Function
Based Introduction (John Benjamins, 1993). I know he must deal with all
of this must more effectively than I have been able to tonight (this

Ron Ross

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