Column: Battle of the Clauses


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

I have an idea for an epic Christmas movie. It would feature a good Santa against an evil South Pole Santa. There would be polar bears battling penguins, reindeer duking it out with more penguins, and North Pole elves fighting off an onslaught of robot penguins. We’d need to have a big penguin budget.

While “Battle of the Clauses” may not be coming to theaters (or HBO Max) soon, today we’re going to tackle two opposing types of grammatical clauses: dependent and independent clauses. Yes, one set of clauses are fighting for independence while the other clings on for dear life. Let’s learn about each contender.

It makes the dependent clauses feel secure knowing that they get to go first. After all, they are nothing but sentence fragments without the more confident independent clauses. A dependent clause is a group of words containing a subject and a verb, but not a complete thought. Dependent clauses cannot stand on their own as complete sentences. For example, “When he was a young warthog” includes a subject and a verb but isn’t a sentence on its own.

Many times, the key to identifying a dependent clause is by finding a dependent marker word. Some of these dependent marker words include “because,” “since,” “if,” “when,” “while” and “after.” If dependent clauses are clingy phrases, dependent marker words are the red flags signifying the clauses’ desperate, lonely status.

An independent clause, on the other hand, is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb and conveys a complete thought. An independent clause is a complete sentence, although you can certainly connect multiple independent clauses together to form a super sentence. An example of such a super sentence is: Tony won an Oscar, and Oscar won a Tony. You see, coordinating conjunctions including “and,” “but,” “or” and “yet” can tie two independent clauses together like a movie with an equally good sequel (like “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” followed by “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”).

When it comes to the battle for clausal supremacy, the independent clause prefers to fly solo, while the dependent clause grips on to its independent neighbor like a baby koala. In the case of the battling Clauses, Christmas spirit ultimately prevails, thanks to the Coca-Cola polar bears showing up to put South Pole Santa on the permanent naughty list. Will there be a sequel to this Santa saga? It depends.

Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of “Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life.” Find more at