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Relative Clause vs. Subordinate Clause — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Published on October 29, 2023
A Relative Clause provides information about the noun it modifies, often introduced by a relative pronoun. A Subordinate Clause, while also dependent, adds context to the main clause, often showing time, cause, or condition.
Relative Clause vs. Subordinate Clause — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Relative Clause and Subordinate Clause


Key Differences

Function: A Relative Clause typically gives specific information about a noun or pronoun in the main clause. In contrast, a Subordinate Clause provides background or additional information to the main idea, making it more understandable.
Introducers: Relative Clauses are often introduced by relative pronouns like "who," "which," or "that." On the other hand, Subordinate Clauses are introduced by subordinating conjunctions such as "because," "although," or "if."
Dependency: Both the Relative Clause and Subordinate Clause are dependent clauses, meaning they cannot stand alone as complete sentences. However, their dependence stems from different reasons. A Relative Clause is linked to a specific noun or pronoun, while a Subordinate Clause is linked to the main idea of the sentence.
Role in Sentences: The Relative Clause acts as an adjective, modifying a specific noun. The Subordinate Clause, though, serves various functions, including as an adverb, offering reasons, conditions, or timing for the main clause's actions.
Placement: A Relative Clause usually follows the noun or pronoun it modifies. In contrast, a Subordinate Clause can be found at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence, depending on its purpose and the intended emphasis.

Comparison Chart


Modifies a noun or pronoun
Provides context to the main clause

Common Introducers

Who, which, that
Because, although, if

Dependency Reason

Tied to a specific noun/pronoun
Linked to the main idea

Role in Sentence


Typical Placement

Follows the noun it modifies
Can be anywhere in the sentence

Compare with Definitions

Relative Clause

Introduced by relative pronouns.
The book that you lent me was fascinating.

Subordinate Clause

Enhances the main idea in a sentence.
She went to the store before it closed.

Relative Clause

A dependent clause modifying a specific noun.
The artist, whose paintings I adore, is having an exhibition.

Subordinate Clause

A clause dependent on the main clause.
Because it rained, we stayed indoors.

Relative Clause

Cannot stand alone due to its relation to a noun/pronoun.
The child, who had been playing outside, was tired.

Subordinate Clause

Introduced by subordinating conjunctions.
Although he was tired, he completed his assignment.

Relative Clause

A clause that describes a noun or pronoun.
The man, who was wearing a blue shirt, sat down.

Subordinate Clause

Provides context, often showing time, reason, or condition.
If you save enough money, you can buy that car.

Relative Clause

Offers specific details about a noun.
The restaurant, which overlooks the sea, is my favorite.

Subordinate Clause

Cannot stand alone as a complete sentence.
While I was jogging, I saw a deer.

Common Curiosities

What's the primary function of a Relative Clause?

A Relative Clause modifies a specific noun or pronoun.

Which clause is introduced by "who" or "which"?

The Relative Clause.

What kind of conjunction typically introduces a Subordinate Clause?

Subordinating conjunctions like "because" or "although."

Where can a Subordinate Clause appear in a sentence?

It can be at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence.

What's the relationship between a Relative Clause and its noun?

A Relative Clause modifies and gives information about its noun.

Do all sentences have Subordinate Clauses?

No, only complex and compound-complex sentences have them.

Which clause offers additional context to the main clause?

The Subordinate Clause.

Can a Subordinate Clause stand alone?

No, a Subordinate Clause is dependent and needs a main clause.

Can you give an example of a Relative Clause?

Sure! "The girl who sings beautifully is my friend."

Which clause typically acts as an adjective?

The Relative Clause.

Can a Relative Clause begin with "if"?

No, "if" typically introduces a Subordinate Clause.

Is a Relative Clause dependent?

Yes, it's dependent on the noun or pronoun it modifies.

Why do we use Subordinate Clauses?

To provide context, reasons, or conditions for the main clause's actions.

Are Relative Clauses essential to sentence meaning?

Not always. Some are essential (restrictive), while others are additional (non-restrictive).

Can you use both clauses in one sentence?

Yes, a sentence can contain both a Relative Clause and a Subordinate Clause.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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