Examine the following sentences:
- I shall do as I like.
This sentence consists of two clauses – I shall do and as I like. Here the first clause I shall do makes complete sense and can stand by itself. This clause is therefore called the main clause or principal clause.
The second clause as I like cannot stand by itself. It depends for its meaning on the first clause. It is therefore called a dependent or subordinate clause.
Now examine the following sentence:
- When we reached the station we found that the train had left.
This sentence consists of three clauses – When we reached the station, we found and that the train had left.
Here the clause we found makes complete sense and can stand by itself. It is therefore called the main clause. The other two are subordinate clauses.
A sentence which consists of one main clause and one or more subordinate clauses is called a complex sentence.