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Formal indicators of subordination (connectors)

§ 145. Subordination is marked by some formal signals contained either in the subordinate clause (This is the news which he didn’t know; You should pardon John, as he didn’t know the rules; He was turning round the corner when we saw him), or in both — the main and the subordinate clause (He was as ignorant as any uneducated person is. The more he looked at the picture, the more he liked it).

These formal signals may be conjunctions or connectives.

Conjunctions are specialized formal devices (connectors) the only function of which is to link clauses and express the relation between them. They usually stand at the beginningof a subordinate clause. The only exception to this rule is the complex sentence with a concessive clause, where owing to partial inversion the conjunction may come second, after the word which is the focus of concessive meaning (tired though he was..., hard as we tried...).

Conjunctions may be one word-form (that, because, though, etc.), phrasal (in order that, providing that, for all that, so far as, etc.), or paired (or correlative, that is, correlated with some element(s) in the principal clause: as... as, such... as, etc.). Some conjunctions may be used in combination with particles (even if, even though, even when, just as, if only).

Connectives combine two functions - that of linking clauses and that of a part in the subordinate clause: He doesn’t care what happens to us; This is where we live, etc. (what has a linking function and at the same time is the subject of the subordinate clause; likewise, where has a linking function and is an adverbial of place).

Connectives are subdivided into conjunctive words (conjunctive subordinating pronouns and adverbs), which are used to join nominal clauses and relative words (pronouns and adverbs), used to join attributive clauses. Some conjunctive and relative words coincide in form, and it is therefore necessary to give some criterion according to which the two types can be distinguished.

The difference between conjunctive words and relative words lies in their role within the sentence or clause. In the case of conjunctive words the choice is determined by the structure and meaning of the subordinate clause itself:


I don’t know who he is. (who is a predicative: he is who)

I don’t know where he is. (where is an adverbial: he is where)

I don’t know when he will come next time. (when is an adverbial: he will come next time when)


In the case of relative words the choice depends on the antecedent: in the main clause:


This is the man whom we spoke aboutyesterday.

This is the book which I promised you.


This is the place where we live.



This is the time when we usually have dinner.



When clauses are joined by connectors they are said to be joined syndetically. If no special linking element is used they are said to be joined asyndetically. In some cases inversion is employed as a signal to indicate the subordination of one clause to another.

Some subordinating conjunctions are homonymous with prepositions (like, fill), some with both prepositions and adverbs (after, since, before). Some are homonymous with participles (supposing, provided), some resemble nouns and nominal phrases denoting time (the very moment, the next time, the instant, the second) or adverbs (immediately, directly, once).

§ 146. Although the relationship of subordination requires only two members, a complex sentence may consist of more than two clauses. It may form a hierarchy of clauses. This is called consecutive or successive subordination.


I see [that you have lost the key (which I gave you)]


Accordingly the structure of the sentence is:

Main clauses ← Subordinate clause ← Subordinate clause


The main clause may have several subordinate clauses of equal rank, that is coordinated with one another. This kind of relationship is called parallel subordination or co-subordination, and the subordinate clauses are homogeneous.


I know that you are afraid of me and that you suspect me of something.


In this case the structure of the sentence is:

Main clause Subordinate clause | and | Subordinate clause

The main clause may have several subordinate clauses with different functions.


All she saw was that she might go to prison for a robbery she had committed years ago.

Main clause All... was... <—————————————— Predicative clause ... that she might go to prison for a robbery...
Attributive clause.... .she saw...   Attributive clause ...she had committed years ago.

Occasionally the two ways of joining clauses may result in a sentence of great complexity, when two or more main clauses are coordinated, each of them being the “main” in relation to their subordinate clauses.


The walls were panelled, because this was the office of the department chairman, and because this

department was physics, the panels held small engraved portraits of Newton, Leibnitz, Faraday, and other


Main clause The walls were panelled —————and———————— main clause the panels held small engraved portraits of... scientists
Subordinate clause of cause ...because this was the office of the department chairman   Subordinate clause of cause ...because this department was physics...

§ 147. Subordination is used to join clauses with a different degree of interdependence or fusion, in the same way as parts of the sentence are joined to one another with a different intensity of connection. Therefore some clauses - subject, predicative, most object clauses - are obligatory for the completeness of main parts, which are otherwise deficient. For instance, in the sentence I think you are right it is impossible to drop the object clause, as the part I think makes no sense. In the same way if we drop the predicative clause in the sentence My opinion was that there was something behind, the part left * My opinion was is ungrammatical.

As can be seen from the examples given above, the role of a subordinate clause for the completeness of the main clause is closely connected with the function of the former.

Most adverbial clauses are optional, not essential for the completeness of the main clause. Thus if we drop the subordinate part in the following sentence, the part left will be identical with a simple sentence.


We’ll have dinner at 8 o’clock, when you come.

We’ll have dinner at 8 o'clock.


According to its syntactic function and the word it refers to, the subordinate clause may be placed before, after, or in the middle of the main clause. Punctuation also depends on these factors: if closely connected, a clause may be joined without any punctuation mark.


I know he is here.

This is the man I toldyou about.


If the connection is rather loose the clause may be commad off.


Should you see him, give him my regards.


In some cases, especially in the case of asyndetic connection, a subordinate clause may be separated by a dash to mark the borderline be­tween the clauses.


The evil simply was - he had missed his vocation: he should have been a soldier, and circumstances had

made him a priest.


Semantically the main clause generally dominates the subordinate clause, as it contains the main information of the utterance. However, there are cases when one part is as important as the other, and even cases when the subordinate clause is the central informative part of the sentence and the main clause is less important, introductory, maintaining only the immediate communicative connection with the listener:

I asked him if he knew the man.


There are cases when the main clause is relegated to a link-verb only:

What he says is not what he thinks.


Complex sentences are classified according to the function of the subordinate clauses (that is, according to their meaning and position in relation to the main clause).


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