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Grammar Handbook: Adjective, Adverb, and Noun Clauses

A clause is a group of related words which has both a subject and a predicate. A clause is different from a phrase because a phrase is a group of related words which lacks either a subject or a predicate or both.

Adjective Clauses

Adjective clauses modify nouns or pronouns. An adjective clause nearly always appears immediately following the noun or pronoun.

To test for adjective clauses there are a couple of questions that you can ask. Which one? What kind? Most adjective clauses begin with "who," "whom," "which," or "that." Sometimes the word may be understood. The words "that" or "who," for example, might not specifically be in the sentence, but they could be implied. To determine the subject of a clause ask "who?" or "what?" and then insert the verb.


Occasionally, an adjective clause is introduced by a relative adverb, usually "when," "where," or "why."


Adverb Clauses

Adverb clauses usually modify verbs, in which case they may appear anywhere in a sentence. They tell why, where, under what conditions, or to what degree the action occurred or situation existed. Unlike adjective clauses, they are frequently movable within the sentence.


Adverb clauses always begin with a subordinating conjunction. Subordinating conjunctions introduce clauses and express their relation to the rest of the sentence.

Noun Clauses

Noun clauses are not modifiers, so they are not subordinators like adjectives and adverbs, and they cannot stand alone. They must function within another sentence pattern, always as nouns. A noun clause functions as a subject, subject complement, direct object, or object of a preposition.

A noun clause usually begins with a relative pronoun like "that," "which," "who," "whoever," "whomever," "whose," "what," and "whatsoever." It can also begin with the subordinating conjunctions "how," "when," "where," "whether," and "why."