When the Chimps Ate Mike - Subclause Openers


I had one of those real “Let’s eat, Grandma” vs “Let’s eat Grandma” instances in writing class this week–and it was so much fun!

The student’s sentence read something like this “When the chimps ate Mike began banging the cans together.”

Thus, it sounded like this (without the comma that was needed): “When the chimps ate Mike…”

Do you know why the comma is needed there? (Besides the obvious fact that the chimps did not eat Mike? 🙂 )


It is because that sentence contains a subordinate clause opener—a sentence opener (words that open a real sentence) that begins with a subordinator and creates a dependent (it is dependent on the rest of the sentence in order to be used) or subordinate (less than the rest of the sentence in rank) clause. Let me sum this up more clearly for you!


First, you need to memorize subordinators in order to be able to recognize that you have written a subordinate clause (or dependent clause) and not a real sentence. (Actually, first you need to memorize CAVES and figure out what a real sentence is!).


Once you memorize subordinators (find a complete list here), you are ready to write with subordinate clauses. Specific to this lesson, you will be ready to write subordinate clause openers (subordinate clauses that are added to the beginnings of sentences).


As far as a subordinate clause is concerned, it contains a subordinator and a subject and a verb.



Subordinator + Subject + Verb


When she drove,

As he said,

After she left,

When they arrived,

Because he smiled,



Did you notice anything about those subordinate clauses? If you noticed that each one would be a sentence if the subordinator were removed, you are correct!


A subordinate clause is a sentence (subject + verb) that has a subordinator at the beginning of it!


Sentence: She drove.

Subordinate clause:  When she drove,


Sentence: He said.

Subordinate clause: As he said,


Sentence: She left.

Subordinate clause: After she left,


Sentence: They arrived.

Subordinate clause: When they arrived,


Sentence: He smiled.

Subordinate clause: Because he smiled,



So….a subordinate clause is a sentence (independent clause-can standalone) that has a subordinator added to the beginning of it (which makes it a dependent clause-is dependent upon something else in order to be used {has to have a real sentence put with it in order to be used}).


Think of subordinate clauses by either of their two names:

1. Subordinate clause–subordinate to the rest of the sentence

2. Dependent clause–dependent on something else to go with it (a real sentence/independent clause) in order to be used



The kids all got a big kick out of the chimps eating Mike, and I don’t think they will forget this lesson (and I hope that you will remember it too!):


When you start a sentence with a subordinate clause,

Put the comma in when you hear the pause!




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