Category archive - Grammar

Breaking the Passive Habit

Breaking the Passive Habit

There are five good reasons for using the passive, aside from those, using the active is by far the more preferable way of writing. There are some, though, who can’t seem to break the habit of overusing it. Surely, there has to be an element of changing the way you think, but there are practical things you can do until that change happens.

Happily, the practicalities of removing passive in your writing is pretty simple using functions in Word — maybe when you see where you use the passive, your thinking will start to change naturally.

How to find your passives

On your document, use CTRL+F to launch a ‘find’ facility. Type ‘by’ into the search area (why ‘by’? See here: grades are received by students, results are understood by reading the research thoroughly), which will help you find unnecessary passives that have the subject in the object position (everything after the ‘by’).

When you find that subject in the object position, you can easily restructure the sentence to put the subject in the active position (usually at the beginning of the sentence) and make the whole sentence active (e.g. students receive grades, reading the research helps us to understand the results).

You could also use the CTRL+F function to search for conjugations of ‘to be’ (is, are, should be, have been etc.), again, helping you to identify where you have used the passive forms and changing them to active.

And there you have it. Passives will be a thing of your past, unless you use them for a particular purpose.

Thanks for the loan of image


20 Sentence Patterns You Can’t Ignore

20 Sentence Patterns You Can’t Ignore

I’ve been working and researching sentences almost daily, now, for over a year. Yes I’m a word-nerd, but there you have it.

In my travels, one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading was The Art of Styling Sentences.

And during one of my late-night sentence surfs, I stumbled across this cracking summary, which I have lifted directly from the lovely people at Oxford Tutorials because I think it’s so incredibly useful.

Twenty Sentence Patterns

1. Compound construction with semi-colon—to condense; to unify

Talent is only one half of it; hard work is the other.

2. Compound construction with ellipsis (omitting a repeated verb ) and comma — to create rhythm or balance

A red light means stop; a green light, go.

3. Compound construction with a colon—to create interest

Dawkins’ God Delusion is educational: it teaches bad logic.

4. A series without a conjunction—to create smooth flow

King Henry won loyalty with his courage, faith and humility.

5. A series of balanced pairs—to create rhythm

He abandoned God and family, faith and honour, house and home.

6. Introductory series of appositives—to expand points succinctly

Vanity, greed, revenge—which was the book’s main theme?

7. Internal series of appositives—to convey information quickly

Some predators—lions, wolves, tigers—have been hunted almost to extinction.

8. Dependent clauses: paired or in series—to summarize main points

“Whether you eat, or whether you drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

St. Paul (1 Cor. 10:31)

9. Repetition of key terms—to create emphasis or intensity

“Never give in… never—in nothing great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
      Winston Churchill

10. Appositive at end, after colon or dash—to build to a climax

Students must conquer a two-headed monster—laziness and boredom.

11. Modifier between subject and verb—to add interest

The tiniest dot—all you once were—marks the beginning of life.

12. Introductory or concluding participles—for variety

Driven by greed, Scrooge almost lost his soul. Awaking to the light, the fugitive resumed his flight.

13. A single modifier out of place anywhere—for emphasis

Occasionally, my parents will argue.       

14. Prepositional phrase before subject-verb—for emphasis

     “By their own follies they perished, the fools.” Homer

15. Object or complement before subject-verb—for emphasis

“Famous and wealthy an English teacher will never be.”

16. Paired constructions—to make comparisons or contrasts

“As slavery divided North and South, so did the Indian Wars divide the East and West.”

17. Dependent clause as subject, object or complement—for variety

{How that could happen} is a complete mystery.  We couldn’t see {who it was}.  The result was {what he predicted].

18. Absolute construction (noun or pronoun with a participle) —to add interest and variety

{God willing}, we will arrive tomorrow.  The students, {their minds disciplined}, persevered.  We are doing well, {all things considered}. 

19. A short sentence for effect—to summarize or provide transition

Jesus wept.” (Jn. 11:35)  “I came, I saw, I conquered.” J. Caesar

20. Deliberate fragment—for dramatic effect

But how?  Never!  Next stop—eternity!  What a price to pay!
What a mistake!  Absolute power corrupting once more. 

Extraposition and Inversion: Glam-sounding Simple Things

Extraposition and Inversion: Glam-sounding Simple Things

Sentence patterns are very predictable in English, and, whether you’re a native-speaker or not, it’s easy to get into a rut with the way you approach writing.

These are two little guys that have a lot to give, simply by being cheeky and getting into places they wouldn’t ordinarily be.


To break away from the expectations of sentence patterns, you can invert. Here, the verb comes before the subject (i.e. use the question form for the main verb) and a prepositional phrase helps to emphasise the verb.

            High up in the sky flew the plane

            Out came the sunshine.

            Along the street came a car, battered and red.

After negative adverbials (usually used with perfect and/or modals (can/could) and usually in comparison (explicit or implied))

Never have I been more excited.

Not only had she learnt to walk very early, but she had also started talking before her first birthday.

Rarely have I asked for help.

Seldom can I say I’m worried about life.


Very simply, the subject gives up its place at the beginning of the sentence and goes on a short break to the end of the sentence.

            The twins are in first place = In first place are the twins.

            At the deep end of the pool were the older kids = The older kids were at the deep end of the pool.

When extraposition is introduced by ‘it’ they are actually fairly natural:

It’s a good idea to have a spare pen = To have a spare pen is a good idea.

You’re more likely to hear the first version, though, aren’t you — so extraposition is a rather glam-sounding thing that you never realised you did.

Starting a sentence with a ‘that’ noun-clause can be considered rather awkward, so is usually introduced with ‘it is’:

That the world will come to an end is inevitable. = It is inevitable that the world will come to an end.

Just another tool for you to stick in your toolbox before you get writing.

Five Positives for Using the Passive Voice

Five Positives for Using the Passive Voice

Six positives if you count annoying any English teacher who’s told you to only write in the active voice.

Writing teachers don’t half go on sometimes, right?

Yes, of course, wherever possible use the active voice, but there are times when the passive can come in very handy.

1. Emphasis is on what happened, not who did it.

Obama was voted the first black president.

2. You don’t know who did the action

Fire was invented a very long time ago – even before I was born.

3. Who does it is unimportant

Smoking is not allowed.

4. To stay/appear objective, scientific, technical or logical.

Her clothes were soaked, suitcase was broken and her neck, severed.

5. To appear diplomatic – especially when a mistake has been made.

An error has been made and we plan to right that wrong.

Is it any massive surprise to learn that academic papers and oops-we-made-a-boo-boo political speeches are littered with passive voice? It can be like a game of Hide the Subject out there. 

Just in those few examples, you can see how the emphasis falls on a different part of the sentence, how, if you wrote them in the active, you might have someone taking blame, you might have to use — eww — one and you’d probably have all kinds of information that, quite frankly, we couldn’t give two hoots about.

So, be proud of the passive and let it have its day because it really can pack some punch when used properly.

How to Move from One Sentence to the Next, Naturally

How to Move from One Sentence to the Next, Naturally

The key to moving naturally from one sentence to the next — which is, of course, the whole point of writing — is good transitions. Such good transitions, in fact, that the reader hardly notices them. They often provide a more conspiratorial feel to a piece of writing: the reader and writer are in it together, if you will.

Time transitions

Perhaps the most common type of transition is one that indicates the amount of time that has passed in a narrative, such as:

One morning, when they’d been waiting for nearly a month.

From this we learn that the scene takes place in the morning and that ‘they’ have been waiting or whatever it was for nearly a month. Not knowing what ‘it’ is builds tension, especially considering the length of the wait.

PUNCTUATION NOTE: Most transition phrases and dependent clauses (that start with when, who, while, as and so on) at the beginning of a sentence need a comma. A rather vague rule is that one- or two-word transitions at the beginning of a sentence can use a comma, or not … your choice, but if it’s over four words, a comma is most likely needed.

When I walked to the car, I realised I’d left the door open. (with comma)

Earlier I had put the bins out. (optional comma)

Time transitions:

  • At the same time
  • Afterwards
  • For four weeks
  • Meanwhile
  • In the evening
  • For a month
  • In the early hours of the morning
  • After lunch
  • At night
  • The next day
  • Later that evening
  • When the sun sank
  • The following Tuesday
  • A week later
  • Months passed
  • At the appointed time
  • The next time they met
  • When they arrived home
  • As they approached
  • In the year 1575 (my father-in-law started his wedding speech like this :S)
  • It took a month, but
  • On the first sunny day

Place transitions
To avoid the ‘dishwasher syndrome’ — telling every move that is made within a story —  you want to be able to change time in a narrative, and this can usually be done in a concise sentence.

Try these:

Maria kept Anna off school for the day and they went to the sweetshop.

This moves the scene from an ordinary world and shifted it to a sweetshop. Fairly easily done!

They wandered around Venice, slowly taking in the sights and sounds, smells and experiences.

It was a battle to drag her suitcases down the narrow backstairs of the cruise ship, and to squeeze against the walls to let other bewildered newbies pass as she stumbled her way to the berth that would be hers for the coming few months.

Place transitions:

  • They boarded the plane, train, bus,.
  • The room was
  • She jogged nervously through the dark streets
  • When the train stopped,
  • She settled in to
  • The chair was located
  • Farther along Duke Street
  • The car inched through the traffic
  • They hid below the stairs of the
  • Opposite the church
  • When they reached
  • In the school hall

Pace transitions
Using speech or actions can accelerate or slow the pace of a sentence. For example,

Eileen hurtled from the car and down the front steps to the flat

has a much different effect than

Eileen slouched from the car and checked to make sure all that each of the doors were locked. She helped her neighbour carry the baby in its pram down the front steps then hunted through her pockets for her door key.

Notice how the transition not only signals a leap in time, but also a change in urgency or mood.

Listen, also, to the sounds of the words to identify whether they are slow or quick and use the sounds to your advantage.

Other examples:

  • Not daring to glance back, they charged toward the lights (quickens the pace)
  • To avoid her, he shuffled through the rooms (slows)
  • “Things have changed under the new rules,” he drawled (slows)
  • “You idiot. You bloody fool. Do you want to get us killed?” (quickens)
  • He pushed to the front of the room (quickens)
  • As a consequence, the weight of the news bore down on him (slows)
  • “We have hours to wait,” she said (slows)
  • With Sunday-morning ease, Susan rolled over under her duvet (slows)
  • Peter ducked behind the wall and held his breath (quickens) 

There, There: A No-brainer for Emphasis in a Sentence

There, There: A No-brainer for Emphasis in a Sentence

This approach to adding emphasis or drawing attention to one part of a sentence is rather grandly called ‘existential there’ or ‘transformational there’.

Now, this is astonishingly simple, and how it can be a CEF C2 grading marker, I’ll never know! But look at how it moves the emphasis:

A stranger is standing on the porch.

There’s a stranger standing on the porch.

In the first sentence ‘is standing’ takes the a low-peak emphasis at the beginning of the sentence with ‘on the porch’ being the main focus, whereas ‘a stranger’ is the main focus in the second. So now we’re intrigued by this stranger, and we care fairly little about where he’s standing — though it does add a nice bit of setting description.

What about these? 

No tickets were available this morning.

There were no tickets available this morning.

Similarly, emphasis is moved from ‘this morning’ to the main point of the sentence: ‘ no tickets’.

Again, the stress moves from the end of the sentence, to the word we want to emphasise.

All of these approaches help to move the subject away from the front of the sentence and into an emphatic position, into the place that we, as competent speakers of English, put the emphasis.

A Word to the Wise: Sentences beginning with ‘it’ or ‘there’, and using ‘to be’ constructions should be used with care. Make sure that you don’t overuse these patterns – and ONLY use them when they add emphasis appropriately. Like anything: too much is a bad thing.

They can be boorishly heavy-handed approaches when overused, and make your writing repetitive and immature. So, you have been warned. After all, no-one wants to be repetitive and immature, do they?!

Make Words Work

Make Words Work

Placing emphasis on the right idea and right word in a sentence is an art. In the UK this isn’t something we really played with as children, which I think is a crying shame. In the US it’s standard grade-school fare, as far as I understand it.

I don’t really ever toying with word order or fiddling around to get the perfect effect. Shame.

Below is an example of a process called sentence combining.

You get a cluster of ideas, which you use to play around with until you get the sentence that works best for your story.

Here’s a basic cluster:

The apartment was quiet

It was punctuated by ticking

The ticking was soft

The ticking was insistent

The ticking came from a clock

And here’s what I made out of that cluster. Some I like, some I don’t, but look at the difference in each of the sentences, achieved simply by moving the words and ideas around.

Sometimes I add a word to alter the meaning of the sentence, but, for the most part, the words stay the same. It’s just word order and use of punctuation that places the emphasis.

  1. The quiet in the apartment was punctuated by ticking. The soft, insistent ticking of the clock.
  2. It was the ticking clock, soft and insistent, that punctuated the quiet of the apartment.
  3. It was the quiet apartment punctuated by the soft, insistent ticking of the clock.
  4. It was the clock, ticking, soft and insistent, that punctuated the quiet of the apartment.
  5. What punctuated the quiet of the apartment was the ticking of the clock, insistent but soft.
  6. Soft and insistent, the ticking of the clock punctuated the quiet of the apartment.
  7. The apartment was quiet; only the ticking of the clock, soft and insistent, punctuated that quiet.
  8. There was a ticking, soft and insistent, that punctuated the apartment’s quiet.
  9. All that punctuated the quiet of the apartment was the ticking of the clock, soft but insistent.
  10. Only the ticking of the clock punctuated the quiet of the apartment.
  11. But, punctuated only by the soft, insistent ticking of the clock, the apartment was quiet.
  12. Punctuated only by ticking clock, soft and insistent, the apartment was quiet.

Which do you like most? Why?



How Tiny Words Can Change Your Writing

How Tiny Words Can Change Your Writing

One tiny little word can make such a difference to the meaning, the deeper meaning, of a sentence. Take a look at these almost silent, yet incredibly powerful little guys and have a think about how using them could affect your sentences, affect your writing, heck, let’s get a little carried away: how they could affect your life.

‘All’ at the beginning of a sentence emphasises ‘the only thing’

I only need a five-minute nap = All I need is a five-minute nap.

            I just want a holiday = All I want is a holiday.

Look at all that desparation heaped onto the sentence starting with all.  Doesn’t it just make you want to cry?!


Similarly ‘only’ at the beginning of a sentence emphasises ‘being the only one’

Only Elizabeth knew how bad it could get.

            Only the sparrows sang louder.

How alone, how tragic. Poor Elizabeth, stuck in a vacuum of nothingness. And, wow, how loud, how arrogant are those chest-out sparrows?

Little’ at the beginning of a sentence has a negative or restrictive meaning

Little do they know how important this lesson will be for them.

            Little do children appreciate how much work parents do for them.

It’s us against them, right? Conspiratorial. Secretive. All that, from such a small word. Good things come in small packages!

All Power to ‘To Be’: Cleft Sentences

All Power to ‘To Be’: Cleft Sentences

Writing teachers can be super mean about ‘to be’. It’s a boring, unemotive, indescriptive verb, a total waste of space, right?

But ‘to be’ can be something of an unsung hero for several ways to put emphasis in a sentence.

By adding the ‘it+is/was’ to the beginning of the sentence, they take a massive hit for the rest of the team. They are swallowed/lost to provide emphasis. You have to be a bit proud of them, really.

It is a CLEFT sentence.

‘It + is/was’ moves the focus from the end of the sentence to the ‘unstressed valley’ at the beginning of the sentence.

By using this approach  you can place the emphasis on any number of parts of the sentence, depending on what you — the writer — consider the most important part of the story.

Here’s a little formula to help you

It + be (+not/ adverb) + emphasised word/phrase + noun clause (that/who/which)

Have a look at this:

Jack drove the car last night.

            It was Jack who drove the car last night.

            It was last night [that] Jack drove the car.

            It was the car [that] Jack drove last night.


You could add a ‘because’ to add reason, purpose or to build narrative:

It was because I was drunk that Jack drove the car.

There are ‘it-clefts’ and there are also cleft clause beginning with ‘what’ (also known as noun clauses!), that can also take the role of the sentence infantryman.

What’ clauses are usually used with verbs like ‘need’, ‘want’, ‘like’, ‘hate’:

I need a holiday = What I need is a holiday (notice no comma after ‘need’, despite the pause!)

They are wrecking the country = What they are doing is wrecking the country. (Again, no comma!)

So, another formula:

wh-clause + is/was/were+ do/did/doing + emphasised word/phrase

Of course, the wh-cleft clause needs to have both a subject and a verb and the emphasised phrase usually uses an infinitive (to + verb).

Wh-clefts help you place the emphasis in the action of a sentence

What Lily did was [to] buy her mum some flowers.

What we’ll be doing is [to be] partying hard.

What the relatives were doing, nobody knows.

Have a play around in your most recent piece of writing and work out whether you can use cleft sentences to get the emphasis you want.

Coming up next: Using a Connotative Word for Emphasis


Bibliography and Useful Resources for Sentences and Writing

Bibliography and Useful Resources for Sentences and Writing

Useful resources

Vince (2009) Advanced Language Practice  pp 54 – 91

Fish, S (2011) How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One. New York: HarperCollins

Longknife, A & Sullivan K.D. (2002) The Art of Styling Sentences. New York: Barron’s

Tufte, V (2006). Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. Conneticut: Graphics Press LLC

University College London‘s Grammar pages: (accessed 27th December 2011)

Loads of writing advice from an OU lecturer and successful novelist

Kelly Rowland’s (tentatively-linked) Advice for Emphatic Writing

Kelly Rowland’s (tentatively-linked) Advice for Emphatic Writing

Kelly Rowland said in an interview on BBC Radio 1 recently that she loves being in England because everyone sings to each other in the morning.

And we do sing! When we greet each other in the morning we use such rhythm that it sounds like a song: Hiya, mooorrrning, he—lllo.

Think of music, of songs. You hear particular words or parts of words emphasised because of the natural rhythm of our speech.

The same should happen in written prose. Fortunately there are a number of patterns, of formats that can help a sentence sing by placing the emphasis on certain words.

For example:

Say this out loud: One of the most important …

Chances are you were barely aware of ‘one of the’ as it’s practically swallowed. Intonation patterns are described as peaks and valleys: loudest syllables are the peaks, the ‘swallowed’ parts of the sentence are the valleys. The main focus is on ‘important’: imPORTant

When those patterns, those peaks and valleys aren’t there, it becomes hard to understand a speaker. For example, those who have suffered a stroke or have Parkinson’s lose the ability to stress patterns in speech, which makes it hard for a listener to understand what is being said.

To write effectively at C2 level, and even as a native speaker, there are a number of approaches you can take – many remarkably easy and many making ample use of our least-favourite verb: ‘to be’.

First let’s look at Information Structure

Look at how we place information in an effective sentence (old—new, known–new, theme-rheme). Known information comes in the subject position, often at the beginning of the sentence, and is usually either a valley when it’s said — it’s quiet, maybe even swallowed, and completely without stress. If it’s lucky, there might be a very low peak (stress) where the key word appears.

Have a look here:

So, while oranges are good for vitamin C, APPLES taste better.

Notice how the focus appears at the end of the sentence (known as the ‘end focus’)

There is also focus achieved by the comma after ‘so’ and a couple of low peaks at both ‘oranges’ and ‘C’

Compare these two sentences to see how native-speakers take this pattern for granted:

Dennis told me that Barbara had an accident this morning on her way to work. But I think he got his facts wrong. She wrecked her motorcycle yesterday.

Dennis told me that Barbara had an accident this morning on her way to work. But I think he got his facts wrong. Yesterday she wrecked her motorcycle.

‘But’ and ‘wrong’ suggest there is going to be some challenge to the information, ‘but’, by not explaining immediately, builds a little tension: what will we learn? We question what is going to come next: She didn’t have an accident? It was at a different time? It was another person in the accident?

Adding ‘yesterday’ at the beginning of the sentence confuses the reader – this new info would be better placed and more clearly stressed at the end of the sentence.

We expect known information at the beginning of the sentence because we want to put emphasis on the new information at the end of the sentence. With NEW information at the beginning, the way we read or speak will mean we lose much of that information.

An effective use of the passive voice is to move that new information from the front of the sentence to the end of it, so that it gets the emphasis it needs.

For example:

Each year since 1901, scientists, artists and peacemakers from around the world have received the Nobel Prize for helping humanity. The creator of dynamite and other explosives, Alfred Nobel, founded this award.

Each year since 1901, scientists, artists and peacemakers from around the world have received the Nobel Prize for helping humanity. This award was founded by, Alfred Nobel, the creator of dynamite and other explosives.

The first approach is new information in the known-information at the front of the sentence, and so it confuses the reader by bringing apparently irrelevant information that we weren’t expecting.

The second approach is satisfying and clear.

While a speaker can place the emphasis on a word, writers need to be more aware of sentence patterns to place the emphasis where we want it. We need to control rhythm for our writing to be effective.

Try this:

Dennis told me that Barbara had an accident this morning on her way to work. But I think he got his facts wrong. It was yesterday she wrecked her motorcycle.

The emphasis clearly lands on ‘yesterday’.

When you’re writing, keep an eye on where you want the emphasis to be. What is the most important part of your sentence and how will you get the emphasis on it?

Coming up next: Cleft sentences overview

Sentence Structures: A little trick

Sentence Structures: A little trick

It’s all well and good knowing stand-alone sentences, but sentences don’t often hang around on their own, do they? My Grammar and Writing students were having a bit of a time with sentence structures, so I found a little trick to help them.


Each sentence needs a subject and a verb – many of them have more than one. When you can find the subjects and the verbs, then you’re a lot closer to working out what kind of sentence you have.

If a sentence has 1 subject and 1 verb then it’s a simple sentence.

Simple sentences can be hard though.
What about this?

Joan and Peter like to shop and to walk every Sunday.

To the untrained eye, it’s easy to think there are two subjects and two verbs BUT they are written as subject + subject, then verb + verb, which means it’s a compound subject (Joan and Peter is the subject) and a compound verb (shops and walks becomes a compound verb) NOT to be confused with a compound sentence!

If you can find 2 different subjects and 2 different verbs (S+V and S+V) then it’s a compound or complex sentence.

The compound sentence can be indentified either by a semi-colon or by the word after the comma: if it’s a ‘FANBOYS’ for, and, but, or, nor, yet, or so then you’re looking at a compound sentence.

Every Sunday, Joan and Peter like to walk, and they like to shop.

Notice that Joan and Peter remains the compound subject and like is the verb, then there’s a comma+and combo, which separates the clauses, and they becomes the second subject with like taking the second verb role.

If what follows the comma, or is at the beginning of the sentence, is a subordinating conjunction, then you have a complex sentence.

If there are commas either side of a semi-colon or a FANBOYS+comma combo the chances are it’s a compound-complex sentence. Identify the S+V combos either side of the semi-colon and check the purpose of the comma aswell – if the comma separates items in a list make sure there are S+V combos scattered around the sentence.

So, keep your eyes open for the subjects and verbs in your sentences and you’ll be able to spot all kinds of patterns that will benefit your own writing enormously.

And finally: what are compound-complex sentences?

And finally: what are compound-complex sentences?

Well, these little munchkins are the final hoorah for sentence structures. Something of a curtain call: everything comes out to raucous applause.

A compound-complex sentence has at least two independent clauses and any number of dependent clauses all pushing and shoving for attention.

A well-crafted compound-complex sentence is a thing to behold with modifiers found in dependent clauses that help the independent clauses fly.

Let’s look at a pretty basic example (inspired by the kids in the garden!).

The little girl screamed when her big brother took the ribbon, which had been lying on the ground, and he ran around the garden with it fluttering in the breeze behind him.

Not a glorious piece of writing, granted, but here you can see where the parts of the sentence are.

One more blog coming up — a little trick to spot the clause types and work out whether it’s an independent or dependent clause.

What are complex sentences?

What are complex sentences?

Complex sentences have one independent clause and one (or more) dependent clause(s). The reason we have complex sentences is to put two similar ideas into one sentence. Usually, the more important of the two ideas takes its place in the independent clause, and the supporting, or contradictory, idea lives in the dependent clause.

There are three kinds of dependent clause:

adverb clause – tells us the where when, why and how the action was done. You can spot an adverb clause when there is a subordinator like: when, while, because, although, if, so or that. An adverb clause can come before or after the independent clause.
adjective clause – describes a noun or pronoun and begins with a relative pronoun like: who, whom, which, whose, that, or a relative adverb like: where or when. The adjective clause always follows the noun or pronoun it describes.
noun clause – begins with a wh- question, that, whether and sometimes if. The noun clause can be part of an independent clause, taking the role of the subject or the object.

Punctuating a complex sentence is also pretty easy. If the dependent clause comes before the independent clause, then you need a comma to separate the clauses. If the dependent clause comes after the independent, then you need no comma.

Dependent clauses — happy days :)

Dependent clauses — happy days :)

Following last week’s introduction to the independent clauses, here we have the younger brother: the dependent clause.

A dependent clause, on its own, doesn’t make much sense. It’s an incomplete thought, or a half-baked idea. It can’t survive on its own: a dependent clause ‘depends’ on his big, independent brother to help make sense of the world.

You can spot a dependent clause by the words it wears: if you find a when, while, if, that, or who then you’re staring a dependent clause in the face.

To make a dependent clause, you need a subordinator, a subject and a verb:
Subordinator Subject Verb (complement)
…when I start writing …
…because you learn quickly.
…if we practice every day.

Need to know the most commonly used subordinators?
After although as, just as, as if as soon as because before even though how if since so that that though unless until what when whenever where wherever whether which while who whom whose

And as a special treat, dependent clauses are also know as subordinate clauses.