The Structure of Clauses

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In our first lesson on clauses we explained that every clause needs at least a subject and a verb. In addition, if a clause can be a sentence by itself then we call it an independent or main clause. If not, it’s a dependent or subordinate clause.

In this section we will look at the main ways in which a single clause is put together. These patterns apply to independent and dependent clauses.

Key Patterns

Subject + Verb

The simplest sentences contain at least a subject and a verb:

You drive.

They laughed.

In these examples the verbs are intransitive because they lack a direct object.

Subject + Passive Verb

The verb can also be in the passive voice:

A deal was made.

The Robinsons were shipwrecked.

Subject + Verb + Direct Object

If the verb is transitive, it can take a direct object. The direct object is the noun or pronoun that receives the action of the verb:

Jen boarded the double-decker bus.

Eugene and Quentin played hide and seek.

Subject + Verb + Indirect Object + Direct Object .

If the clause has a direct object, it can also have an indirect object. The indirect object is the noun or pronoun for or to whom the action is done:

He gave me a compliment. (to me)

Bob taught Gary some dance moves. (to Gary)

Indira bought her friend some flowers (for her friend)

Note that the preposition to or for is left implied.

Subject + Linking Verb + Subjective Complement

If your verb is a linking verb, it will be followed by a word that describes the subject. We call this word (and its modifiers) the subject complement.

Sometimes the subject complement is an adjective:

She seemed angry.

The trout tasted great.

At other times the complement is a noun:

Karen was a cheerleader.

The Oilers are a scrappy hockey team.

If you want the technical terms, we call these complements predicate nouns and predicate adjectives.

Subject + Verb + Direct Object + Objective Complement

If you’ve just read about the subject complement, you will be happy to know that the objective complement works the same way—the only difference being that it describes the direct object:

Sometimes the objective complement is an adjective:

The coach called the loss embarrassing.

Hannah found her dinner and her boyfriend cold.

At other times the objective complement is a noun:

Management named Cindy Rella the new coach.

The disaster left Jerry a nervous wreck.

There or It + Linking Verb + Subject

The final pattern inverts the regular order of the sentence:

There is hope.

It is a good sign.


The patterns found on this page will help you understand the structure or skeleton of individual clauses. Of course, when you read actual sentences these patterns will not show up as clearly. You will have to disregard phrases and modifiers that add colour to the sentence. With a bit of practice, however, you will be able to see how each clause is put together.