Students often ask “what do I need to do to get a high band for grammar?”. Well, in order to get a band 7 or higher for grammar, you need to accurately use subordinate clauses in both your speaking and writing. If you don’t use complex sentences with subordinate clauses, then your grammar band will be low. Today we are going to cover the basics of subordinate clauses. We will look at:
What is a subordinate clause?
Read the subordinate clauses below.
These clauses seem strange, right? You have probably noticed they are not completely formed ideas. They are fragments which should accompany more information. We are left asking more questions:
Let’s take a look at how these questions are answered when we look at the complete sentences. The subordinate clauses are in bold, the main clauses are not.
A subordinate clause cannot stand alone. It must be used with a main clause.
If the subordinate clause comes before the main clause, then the two must be separated by a comma. This is an important rule to follow as the examiner will be looking out for accurate punctuation of complex sentences.
Now we know what a subordinate clause is, let’s take a look at some common types that you should definitely try to use in your writing and speaking.
A concessive clause is a clause which expresses an idea different to the one in the main clause. Look at the examples below.
The concessive clause is introduced with a concessive conjunction such as although, even though, though, or whereas. Notice the contrast between the two ideas in the sentence. If the concessive clause is before the main clause, then the two are separated by a comma.
Note: Though is considered to be informal and is used only in speaking.
Concessive Clauses - Activity
People are talking about music, games, hats and films in the first part of the IELTS speaking test. Are the following sentences correct or incorrect?
ARE THESE CLAUSES CORRECT OR INCORRECT
why are these incorrect?
1. Incorrect - There is no contrast between the main and subordinate clause.
3. Incorrect - 'even though' and 'but' should not be used in the same sentence.
6. Incorrect - no comma separates the subordinate clause and the main clause
8. Incorrect - Two contrasting conjunctions are used ('although' and 'but').
Time Clauses and Reason clauses
Time and Reason clauses are dependent clauses. These clauses are used to answer questions like When? Or Why?
You are probably familiar with these types of clauses already so let’s move on to the third and final type, relative clauses.
Who, whom, whose, which, when, where and that are relative pronouns. If a subordinate clause begins with a relative pronoun, then it is a relative clause. Relative clauses act like adjectives – they describe a noun. There are two kinds of relative clauses.
1. Defining Relative Clauses
Defining relative clauses define what something is. They give essential information about nouns. Defining relative clauses always follow the noun they describe. Look at these examples.
That is the place where I work.
The man who sold me the vegetables was very friendly.
Relative Clauses - Activity
Choose the correct relative pronoun (who, whose, which, where, when) by clicking on the pronoun, then clicking again on a gap.
Click or touch a word above
Now click or touch a gap below
Defining relative clauses are great for paraphrasing (explaining what something is). Doing this effectively needs to be done to get a higher band for lexical resource (LRA) in speaking. If you can explain what something is, even if you don’t know the English word for it, the examiner will notice that the gaps in your vocabulary don’t stop you from communicating effectively. See the example below.
This is a day when people try to reduce their carbon footprint by not using motor vehicles or electricity. (the candidate is talking about Earth Day)
To practice this skill, think of some traditional events, games, clothing or days in your culture for which there is no English word. Describe these traditional things using defining relative clauses. Traditional culture is a common speaking topic.
2. Non-Defining Relative Clauses
These clauses are introduced by a relative pronoun and they add non-essential information about a noun. Look at these examples.
Notice how the non-defining relative clause and the main clause are separated by commas.
If you need more information about relative clauses, then check out this page for in-depth information from the British Council.
Subordinate Clauses - Final Activity
People are talking about motor vehicles. Below are some complex sentences. Match the two halves of the sentences together by typing a number next to each sentence.
SELECT THE CORRECT SENTENCE HALVES
Next time you’re speaking or writing try and use plenty of subordinate clauses to make your writing more interesting and more complex. Doing this should push up your band score for grammatical range and accuracy. When you’re reading, look at the grammar of the sentences and see if you can spot the different types of clauses we have studied today.
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