Many dependent clauses begin with a subordinate conjunction, so if you recognize the common subordinate conjunctions, you will be able to determine if a clause is dependent or independent.

What is a clause?
A clause is a group of words in a sentence that may contain a subject and a verb.
What is a dependent clause?
A dependent clause is a group of words that cannot stand by itself; it needs an independent clause to make a sentence.
What is an independent clause?
An independent clause is a group of words that can stand by itself to make a complete sentence.
Example #1

Since I have been in college
Explanation: This is a dependent clause because it cannot stand on its own. It is not a complete sentence.

Example #2

I have learned so much.
Explanation: This is an independent clause because it can stand on its own. It is a complete sentence because it contains a subject, a verb, and a complete thought.

Putting Clauses Together

When a sentence begins with a dependent clause, it is ALWAYS followed by an independent clause, and there is ALWAYS a comma in between the two clauses.

The reverse is not true: If a sentence begins with an independent clause, it need not be followed by a dependent clause although it may be. If it IS followed by a dependent clause, there is no comma between the two clauses.

Example #1

Dependent clause + a comma + an independent clause.

Example #2

Independent clause + a dependent clause.

Try the exercises!

Exercise 1 | Exercise 2