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Writing and Placing Your Subordinate Clauses

Finding the correct place to put your subordinate clauses is simple. Clauses acting as subjects or objects nearly always fall in the proper place automatically. Don’t worry about them! Put the subordinate clause that describes a noun or pronoun near the word that it describes. Here are a few examples of proper placement of clauses that describe nouns and pronouns:

Larry’s wedding coordinator, who planned his last eight ceremonies, is hiring more staff. (The italicized clause describes the noun coordinator.)
The coordinator took care of every detail; he even baked the cakes that Larry's guests enjoyed. (The italicized clause describes the noun cakes.)
Anyone who is on a diet should stay away from Larry's weddings. (The italicized clause describes the pronoun who.)

If the subordinate clause describes the verb, it may land at the front of the sentence or at the rear. On rare occasions, the clause settles down in the middle of the sentence. Here are some examples:

Although Anna understood the equation, she chose to put a question mark on her answer sheet. (The italicized clause describes the verb chose.)
She wrote the question mark because she wanted to make a statement about the mysteries of life. (The italicized clause describes the verb wrote.)
Anna failed the test; but until her mother found out about the question mark, Anna was not distressed. (The italicized clause describes the verb was.)

What to put in a clause depends upon the writer’s purpose. Generally, the most important idea belongs in the independent clause. Subordinate clauses are for less crucial information. Check out these examples:

Important idea: Godzilla ate my mother.
Less important idea: My mother was wearing a green dress.
Good sentence: Godzilla ate my mother, who was wearing a green dress.
Not-so-good sentence: My mother was wearing a green dress when Godzilla ate her.
Important idea: Agwamp just won a trillion dollars
Less important idea: His name means “ancient bettor” in an obscure language.
Good sentence: Agwamp, whose name means “ancient bettor” in an obscure language, just won a trillion dollars.
Not-so-good sentence: Agwamp, who just won a trillion dollars, says that his name means “ancient bettor” in an obscure language.

Of course, some writers stray from this pattern to make a comic point or to emphasize a character trait. Suppose you're writing about someone who, to put it mildly, tends to be self absorbed. A sentence like the following one emphasizes that trait:

While the stock price tanked and sales plummeted, the CEO examined his photo on the company Web site.

The wreck of the company isn’t a big deal for this negligent CEO, and its placement in the subordinate clause reinforces that fact.

Regardless of what you place in a subordinate clause, be sure to connect it to the sentence properly.

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