The Nature of Clauses in English

I have been teaching IELTS for almost a year now, and what I see recently is the fact that there have been several confusion caused by the use of Adjective and Adjective clause.

To be be completely honest, there is no difference between the two, in terms of function at least, both of them are used to give additional information for a Noun. Theoretically easy it turns out to be, does not necessarily mean that y'all do it good in practice. In fact, some learners find it difficult to understand it when it comes to real practice, especially in IELTS Listening Section where you have to deal with the fast pace, different accents, and usually, low quality audio file or speaker.

It is commonly known that a clause is made up of at least a Subject and a Verb. There are different types of clauses and sometimes it is a little bit hard to define to which type a clause should belong and how it is supposed to be used in a sentence (when I say difficult, I specifically refer to a non-native speaker of English). 

So, let's have a little discussion on this matter.

1. Adjective Clause
Speaking of the commonly known syntactical rule, I presume you already got the idea that there are mainly two different clauses, which are the main clause and the bound or relative clause. It is to say, main clause can stand on its own, while the bound clause has to be attached to the main clause. Take this example:

If I have a sentence

The guy who takes a picture is my father
We have to different clauses here:
The guy takes a picture (clause 1)
[The guy] is my father (clause 2), combined by the word "who"

It can be seen that the first half part of the sentence cannot stand on its own, sadly. So it is not possible to say The guy who takes a picture without the main clause [The guy] is my father (that can stand on its own).

Note that Adjective clause and the Main Clause are always connected by WH form, such as:
who/that: The guy who/that takes a picture is my father
which/that: The book which/that is stolen by Andy is expensive
whose: He is the woman whose husband passed away yesterday
where: It is the place where the civilization will thrive
when: It is the year when the World War II began

This clause functions as an adjective clause that gives further information about the Noun Phrase (The Guy). It basically functions like an adjective preceding a Noun, only it is in a form of a clause. One reason why this matter could be a little bit bewildering is the fact that it can actually be reduced, either using a present participle or using a past participle.

Let's take the previous sentence as an example:

The guy who takes a picture is my father

The adjective clause there can be reduced by using a present participle so that it becomes

The guy taking a picture is may father

Let's take another example:

The book which is stolen by Andy is really expensive (what a naughty by, Andy). This sentence can be reduced to The book stolen by Andy is really expensive.

And here we go, the most common confusion finally appears. Why the first example is reduced to present participle while the second one is reduced to past participle? The answer is actually quite simple. If you take a look at the first example, it is actually in a form of active voice [by omitting the adjective clause] "The guy is my father" while the second example is in a form of passive voice by omitting the adjective clause] "The book is stolen by Andy".

So here is the Rule
Every time you have an active voice with an adjective clause that needs to be reduced, use the present participle. Every time you have a passive voice, use the past participle instead.

We can also see that the clause functions the same way an adjective explains a Noun. Take the second example. The clause "which is stolen by Andy" functions the same way the word "missing" (which is an Adjective) explains the Noun "book" in this sentence:

The missing book is expensive

or in other words,

The book stolen by Andy is expensive

So, if the book is stolen by Andy, then it has to be missing. Got it?

2. Noun Clause
Another minor mistake that often turns into something nasty is the use of Noun clause. As the name suggests, Noun clause can replace a Noun just the same way Adjective clause can replace an Adjective. Take a look at this example:

Andy knows what I did yesterday (you stole a book and now what? being a creepy stalker?)

There are some confusion with the Verbs existing in this sentence, because some people neglect the existence of the word "what" in there. The word "what" is the key factor why it becomes a Noun clause in the first place, just the way which, who, whose, where, and when become the key factors for Adjective clause. However, if you give it a little glance, it will look like you are having two Verbs. This in contradiction with our most fundamental rule dictating that :
A clause can never have two main verbs, that the Verb which is located far from the Subject usually accepts its destiny and turns into a to infinitive or a gerund instead

So, you probably begin to make several assumptions regarding the Verb "did", considering the fact that it is far from the Subject. Yes, the Verb "did" does not have to accept his destiny as the insignificant other since it never becomes a Verb, in that sentence at least. The main Verb is the word "knows" and the sentence can be best described as follows:

Andy (S) knows (main V) what you did yesterday (Noun clause)

So, "what you did yesterday" is the Noun clause whose function is the same of that of Noun. Note: If you are not sure whether a clause should be a Noun clause or should it be something else, try to replace it with Pronoun "It". If that makes sense, then it must be a Noun clause indeed.

Andy knows what you did yesterday=Andy knows it

Sounds good enough right?

3. Adverbial Clause
The name has made the function of Adverbial clause becomes less difficult to predict. We already have Adjective clause that has the same function as an Adjective, and Noun clause whose function is similar to a Noun. The last type of clause we should give attention to is Adverbial clause, whose function resembles that of Adverb. I hope you still remember that Adverb functions to give additional information to Verb.

Adverbial clause modify Verbs by giving additional information about when, where, why, how, how much and under what condition. It has a subordinating conjunction (such as after, if, because and although) and like any other clause, they contain a Subject and a Verb.

Here are some examples of Adverbial clause and a brief explanation on how it works:

a. I move out because my office is too far away from my old apartment (in which the subordinate conjunction "because" explains the reason why the Subject move out from her old apartment), hence the relation between the two clauses is causal relationship.

b. If you work really hard on it, you will finally make it (in which the subordinate conjunction "if" explains the condition for making it), hence hence the relation between the two clauses is conditional relationship.

Note that it works the same way as subordinate conjunctions such "as as well as" and "unless"

c. I still fail the exam for the second time, although I have studied hard (in which the subordinate conjunction "although" explains the contradiction between the fact explained by the first and the second clause.

Okay, there are too many adverbial clauses in English and it is simply not possible for me to list them all here. For the sake of practicality, please look for some more examples from other sources.


If you are rather confused with the concept of Noun, Verb, Adjective and Adverb, please consider reading the previous material


I think that's all for now. If there is any inquiry regarding the explanation above or suggestions for future improvement, feel free to express it on the comment section. Cheers!

-Ross

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