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§ 144. While coordination is a connection of two or more clauses of equal rank and function, subordination is usually defined as a non-symmetrical relation, that is, in a complex sentence with a minimal composition of two clauses, one is the basic element, whereas the other is a constituent or part of the first. The first one is called the main (or principal) clause, the second the subordinate clause.

Formal indicators of subordination (connectors)

§ 145. Subordination is marked by some formal signals contained either in the subordinate clause (This is the newswhich he didn’t know; You should pardon John,as he didn’t know the rules; He was turning round the cornerwhen we saw him), or in both — the main and the subordinate clause (He was as ignorantas any uneducated person is.The more he looked at the picture,the more he liked it).

These formal signals may be conjunctions or connectives.

Conjunctions are specialized formal devices (connectors) the only function of which is to link clauses and express the relation between them. They usually stand at the beginningof a subordinate clause. The only exception to this rule is the complex sentence with a concessive clause, where owing to partial inversion the conjunction may come second, after the word which is the focus of concessive meaning (tiredthough he was..., hardas we tried...).

Conjunctions may be one word-form (that, because, though, etc.), phrasal (in order that, providing that, for all that, so far as, etc.), or paired (or correlative, that is, correlated with some element(s) in the principal clause: as... as, such... as, etc.). Some conjunctions may be used in combination with particles (even if, even though, even when, just as, if only).

Connectives combine two functions - that of linking clauses and that of a part in the subordinate clause: He doesn’t care what happens to us; This iswhere we live, etc. (what has a linking function and at the same time is the subject of the subordinate clause; likewise, where has a linking function and is an adverbial of place).

Connectives are subdivided intoconjunctive words (conjunctive subordinating pronouns and adverbs), which are used to joinnominal clausesandrelative words (pronouns and adverbs), used to join attributive clauses. Some conjunctive and relative words coincide in form, and it is therefore necessary to give some criterion according to which the two types can be distinguished.

The difference between conjunctive words and relative words lies in their role within the sentence or clause. In the case of conjunctive words the choice is determined by the structure and meaning of the subordinate clause itself:


I don’t know who he is. (who is a predicative: he is who)

I don’t know where he is. (where is an adverbial: he is where)

I don’t know when he will come next time. (when is an adverbial: he will come next time when)


In the case of relative words the choice depends on the antecedent: in the main clause:


This is the man whom we spoke aboutyesterday.

This is the book which I promised you.


This is the place where we live.



This is the time when we usually have dinner.



When clauses are joined by connectors they are said to be joined syndetically. If no special linking element is used they are said to be joined asyndetically. In some casesinversion is employed as a signal to indicate the subordination of one clause to another.

Some subordinating conjunctions are homonymous with prepositions (like, fill), some with both prepositions and adverbs (after, since, before). Some are homonymous with participles (supposing, provided), some resemble nouns and nominal phrases denoting time (the very moment, the next time, the instant, the second) or adverbs (immediately, directly, once).

§ 146. Although the relationship of subordination requires only two members, a complex sentence may consist of more than two clauses. It may form a hierarchy of clauses. This is called consecutive or successive subordination.


I see [that you have lost the key (which I gave you)]


Accordingly the structure of the sentence is:

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