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Year 4 Language and Literature

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Parts of a Sentence: Main and Subordinate Clauses

six silly spiders

You speak and write sentences all the time. A sentence is a group of words that expresses a complete thought. Is this a sentence?
Six silly spiders

No, something (a verb) is missing to tell you what is going on. Is this a sentence?
Sang songs in the shower

No, something (a subject) is missing here to tell you who is singing. But if you put them together, you can make a complete sentence:
Six silly spiders sang songs in the shower.

What if you want to describe more about what is going on?
Six silly spiders sang songs in the shower after spinning their webs.

A main clause can be a sentence on its own, and a subordinate clause adds more detail to the sentence. Here, the main clause is 'Six silly spiders sang songs in the shower.' The subordinate clause is 'after spinning their webs'; this also has a verb, but it can't be a sentence on its own. Since it depends on having a main clause with it in the sentence, some people call a subordinate clause a dependent clause. It usually starts with words like these:

after, because, before, if, once, since, that, when, where, while, which, who


These words are clues to help you know which part of a sentence is a subordinate clause. Let's look at some other examples (the part in bold is the main clause and the part in normal text is the subordinate clause):

When I am older I will ride in a hot air balloon.

I have a fun granny because she teaches me how to paint and lets me make a mess.

In these sentences, 'when' and 'because' are clues to tell you which part is the subordinate clause. It's not always at the end of the sentence either!

Can you write a subordinate clause to tell more about this sentence?
Eight enormous gorillas run through the forest before _____________________.

Now can you write a main clause to go with this subordinate clause?
_____________________ if they go on holiday in France.

For the last one, did you write 'My friends will go to the beach' or 'All mice feast on cheese'?


This activity is adapted from pages 69 - 70 of What Your Year 4 Child Needs to Know. This activity has a connection: click below to see the related activity.

language and literature owl