subordinate clause

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In grammar, a subordinate clause is a sub- clause that is linked to a higher-order clause and depends on it ; a subordinate clause is therefore never alone. The associated superordinate part is called a matrix clause , and this can be a main clause or a subordinate clause. The embedding of subordinate clauses can lead to multiple nested structures (a case of recursion ). There is no subordinate clause B. when two main sets by (next ordering) conjunctions such as and , or as to be connected (the so-called Parataxe ).

The subordinate, dependent status of subordinate clauses is mostly, but not always, marked visibly. In German , subordinate clauses are often introduced by conjunctions, question pronouns or relative pronouns. In these German sentences the finite verb has a different position than in the main clause: It is at the end of the sentence. In addition, there are also subordinate clauses with a preceding verb, namely verb-first and verb-second subordinate clauses , which are also referred to as "uninitiated subordinate clauses". Some infinitive constructions can also have the status of subordinate clauses. Overall, the languages ​​of the world differ considerably in how they mark subordinate clauses or which grammatical phenomena correspond to a German subordinate clause.

Subordinate clauses are also divided according to their function into constituent clauses , attribute clauses (constituent clauses) and advanced subordinate clauses . Constructed clauses take on the function of a sentence member in the matrix clause . Attribute sets take on the function of an attribute in the matrix set, i.e. they expand one of the clauses contained in the matrix set. Further subordinate clauses, however, are not integrated into the main clause, i. H. do not have the status of clauses in the main clause.

An even finer distinction classifies subordinate clauses according to which part of the sentence has been replaced or with which one has been expanded (see types of subordinate clauses).

In some grammars the term term clause is used as synonymous with subordinate clause; As a rule, however, “clause” is associated with a narrower meaning, as it was defined at the beginning (a subordinate clause that represents a part of a sentence).

Types of subordinate clauses

Constructed clauses and subordinate clauses

There are subordinate clauses that only loosely follow their associated main clause, but are not integrated into the interior of the main clause. Such non-integrated sentences are called advanced subordinate clauses . A typical case are advanced relative clauses :

  • “He invited me, which I'm very happy about. "
  • NOT: * "What I'm very happy about, he invited me."
  • Compare: "I don't understand what you are so happy about."

The third example shows a subordinate clause that forms the direct object of the predicate not understand . The possibility to put this subordinate clause at the beginning of the main clause (in the run-up to the finite verb) shows that it is an integrated clause (clause), in contrast to the further subordinate clause in the second example.

Subtypes of clauses

In the case of subordinate clauses that are integrated in the main clause, a further distinction is made between constituent clauses and attribute clauses (for the latter see the section below). Constructed clauses are clauses of the superordinate clause , either content clauses (subject clauses , object clauses ) , adverbial clauses or predicative clauses . In the following examples, the subordinate clauses are marked by square brackets.

Subject and object sentences

Subject and object clauses take up an argument of a predicate and are introduced in many cases - but not always - by a subordinate conjunction such as that / ob , or by a question pronoun. If a subject sentence is in the final position, it is often indicated in advance by the pronoun es .

Examples of subject sentences:

  • "It is not good [for the person to be alone]."
  • "[When he comes] is unclear."

Example for object sets:

  • "And he saw [that it was good]."
  • "I wonder [if she still knows me]."
  • "Peter understood exactly [what I meant]."
  • "I think [it will rain soon]."

Adverbial clauses

Adverbial clauses are usually introduced by various conjunctions . Some examples (for more see the main article Adverbial Clause ):

Predicative clauses

An example of a predicative subordinate clause is the following what- clause, which comes after the copula verb remain , i.e. in the position of a predicative :

  • "Anna wants to stay [what she always was]."

Attribute sets

Attribute clauses , that is, sentences that are connected to a noun , are often relative clauses ; these are introduced by relative pronouns or relative adverbs . Examples:

  • "Julian stood for a long time on the wooden bridge [that led from the country road to the village]."
  • "The place [where I was born] is on the seashore."
  • "The place [where I was born]" (with relative adverb).

There are also attribute sentences in the form of that / ob sentences or question sentences:

  • "The uncertainty as to [whether it will come] worries me."

Since the nouns with these extensions form parts of sentences, the attribute sentences are also referred to as partial clauses .

Classification according to verb form or phrase core

The subordinate clauses can also be divided according to the verb form into:

  • Finite clauses ("actual" supplementary clauses )
  • Infinitive clauses ( subordinate infinitive phrases , infinitive constructions)
  • Participle clauses (subordinate participle phrases, participle constructions)

The terminology is inconsistent. Not all grammars use this consistently compositions with the basic word -Satz or -Nebensatz. Some conceptions of “ sentence ” assume finite verb form and subject. Then, for example, of nebensatzwertigen phrases mentioned, and Finitsätze would thus be the real or single sentences or subordinate clauses. Alternative names are given in parentheses above.

Phrases with original adjectives as the core (subordinate adjective phrases ) do not contain a verb form, but otherwise behave similarly to participle clauses and are therefore treated together with them.

In the following examples , the respective verb or predicate form is in italics , the subordinate clause [in square brackets].

Finite theorems

  • make up the majority of the German subordinate clauses
  • are based on a finite verb form

See examples above.

Infinitive clauses

  • are based on an infinitive (with "zu")
  • contain (like the participle clauses) no subject
  • can be introduced by means of certain (sub) junctions ; in German v. a .: at

The missing subject of infinitive clauses can be added to the interpretation depending on the matrix clause or the wider context (so-called “ control ” of the infinitive subject).


  • "He hoped [not to be punished]."
The missing subject of the infinitive is interpreted as identical to the subject of hope .
  • "[To unite them all] was his concern."
The missing subject is equated with the pronoun sein in the main clause.
  • "He came [to prevent the worst]."
The missing subject of the infinitive is interpreted as identical to the subject of to come .

The delimitation of non-sentence-valued ( coherent ) infinitive constructions can cause difficulties.

See also: subordinate infinitive phrase , order-to-sentence , incoherent construction , for comma placement .

Participle clauses

  • based on a participle (I or II) (type of participle set as Subscript 1/2 in the examples )
  • do not contain a subject (like the infinitive clauses) because it is realized via the main clause
  • can be introduced using certain (sub) junctions such as (alphabetically) although , although ... (in the examples, italics in bold )


  • "[Cheerfully whistling 1 ] she resigned."
  • "[The sails hoisted 2 ], it entered the harbor."
  • "[ Although weakened by the fight 2 ], he won."
  • "Müller, [ born 2 in Hamburg], came to Berlin."

The missing subject of the participle is equated with the subject of the finite sentence (she / it / he / Müller) .

Analogous examples with adjective phrase (the adjective is in italics ):

  • "[ Tired of the game ], he left the room."

Classification according to the introduction

In addition, the beginning of the subordinate clause is also divided into

  • Introduced subordinate clauses
  • Subjunctive clauses (subjunctive clauses, conjunction clauses)
  • W / D clauses (pronominal (secondary) clauses)

From a formal point of view, participle and infinitive clauses often do not have an introductory element, but they are then also divided into a special group.

Subjunctive clauses


  • "[ Because she didn't come] he went."
  • "He tried [ although it didn't work]."

W / D rates

In the following examples, the introductory element (without the preposition) is in italics .


  • "[ Who owns it] remains unclear."
  • "She wanted to know [ who it was]."
  • "He didn't say [ who he's waiting for]."
  • "They didn't know [ where through it happened]."
  • "The parrot, [ the I bought yesterday] is dead as a doornail."

Unopened subordinate clauses

  • do not begin with the introductory elements or function words mentioned above

According to the verb placement, a distinction is made between

Some of these word sequences have the same meaning as introduced subordinate clauses (in which the verb appears in the final position).

In the following examples, the verb form is in italics .

Second subordinate clauses

  • are, as far as permitted by the verb of the matrix sentence, largely equivalent in meaning to a subjunctive sentence (verbal sentence), which is introduced by "that"


  • "He protests [she is innocent]."
Subjunctive clause: [ that she is innocent]

Subordinate clauses


  • "[ If you come in time], (see above) you will still get something."
Subjunctive clause: [ If you come on time]
  • "[ If she had been paying attention], (like this) it would not have happened."
Subjunctive clause: [ If she had paid attention]
  • "[ No matter how good it tastes ], you still have to stop."
Subjunctive clause: [ Even if it tastes so good]

Verbal sentences also form the basis of direct questions such as “Is Wikipedia an encyclopedia?”. Indirect (embedded) yes / no questions cannot be in the verbal position in German, but are marked by the conjunction ob .

Nesting sets

Main and subordinate clauses can contain further subordinate clauses, which means that deep nesting can be constructed. The resulting sentence construction is referred to as a sentence structure . Subordinate clauses stand in a relationship of subordination to main clauses, which is called hypotaxe . Hypotactic style therefore describes the use of heavily nested clauses , in contrast to paratax , in which pure main clauses are strung together.

The nesting depth is not syntactically limited. Punctuation marks that make the sentence structure recognizable help when reading. Where they are optional after the spelling reform , doing without them can make the sentence more confusing.

Since the 20th century there has been a tendency to simplify and shorten the structure of sentences . Famous writers of the 20th century, whose style is still characterized by elaborately designed periods, are z. B. Thomas Mann or Theodor W. Adorno .

Subordinate clauses in a language comparison

Word differences

In German, main clauses and most subordinate clauses differ in their word order, namely in that the finite verb remains in the final position of conjunctions and relative pronouns at the beginning of the sentence, whereas the German main clause is a second clause. This phenomenon is found in a similar (but not exactly identical) form in other Germanic languages, except English. For an example, see Swedish language # syntax .

Outside of the Germanic languages, such word placement differences between main and subordinate clauses are rather rare (only a difference in verb placement between finite and infinite clauses is common). An example cited in the literature is the Quileute language , which shows the word order verb-subject-object in main clauses, but subject-verb-object in subordinate clauses.

Marking of subordinate clauses: introductory elements or closing elements

Different languages ​​use different strategies to mark the extent of a subordinate clause embedded in a main clause. In German, as we have seen, subordinate clauses are marked with introductory elements. Other languages ​​can also mark subordinate clauses using elements at the end of the subordinate clause. In the Bwe Karen language (from the Tibeto-Burman language family ), both strategies can be found in adverbial clauses:

yə-khɔ́ ge           [kɔ́   yə-dɛmɛ  wá    lɔ ]
1.SG-FUT zurückkehren wenn 1.SG-tun fertig PTC
„Ich werde zurückkehren, wenn ich mit der Arbeit fertig bin.“
[gəli əco u     ɓaʃɔ́    nu ]
Wind kalt wehen obwohl PTC
„… obwohl ein kalter Wind wehte“

In languages ​​in which the verb is at the end of a sentence ( subject-object-verb languages), markings for subordinate clauses can also appear as special endings at the verb. The following example shows a so-called dependent verb form in West Greenlandic , with a "causative" ending that could not be attached to a verb in the main clause:

[anurli-ssa-mmat ]    aalla-ssa-nngil-agut
 windig-FUT-3.SG.CAUS gehen-FUT-NEG-1.PL.IND
„Weil es windig werden wird, werden wir nicht gehen.“

For further examples see also: Greenlandic language # sentence structure .

Similar phenomena can also be found under: Japanese grammar # conjunctions and subordinate clauses .

Web links

Wiktionary: Subordinate clause  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. K. Pittner, J. Berman: Deutsche Syntax. A work book. Narr, Tübingen 2009, p. 99f.
  2. Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd, updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (article link set vs. link part set ).
  3. Explicitly like this: Duden - The Grammar. 8th edition. 2009, p. 1027.
  4. Example from Canoonet, "secondary clause"
  5. Example from: Dudengrammatik 2009, p. 1028.
  6. For Duden grammar 2009, p 1028th
  7. a b c d Duden - The grammar . 8th edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim / Vienna / Zurich 2009, ISBN 978-3-411-04048-3 . Sections 1317 p. 850, 1320 p. 852, 1648 p. 1026
  8. ^ Morphosyntactic classification of subordinate clauses . In: Grammis 2.0 . Institute for the German Language (IDS). Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  9. ^ The subordinate clause: Form . In: Canoonet . Canoo Engineering AG. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  10. World Atlas of Language Structures, chap. 81 with recourse to Andrade (1933)
  11. Example from Matthew S. Dryer: Order of Adverbial Subordinator and Clause. In: Matthew Dryer, Martin Haspelmath (eds.): The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig 2013. Online: WALS Chapter 94
  12. Sonia Cristofaro: Reason Clauses. In: Matthew Dryer, Martin Haspelmath (eds.): The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig 2013. Online: WALS Chapter 127