What is an Embedded Clause?

In this post, we’ll cover embedded clause – and, briefly, embedded sentence.

What is an embedded clause?

An embedded clause is essentially a dependent clause – noun, relative, or adverb – that is part of another clause. Let the word embed not confuse you. As you’ll see in these examples, embedded clauses (underlined) are one and the same as the regular dependent clauses you’re used to seeing in sentences:

Most scientists believe that megalodon went extinct nearly two million years ago. [Noun clause]

Megalodon, which was a giant version of modern-day great white shark, went extinct nearly two million years ago. [Relative clause]

Megalodon went extinct nearly two million years ago because its prey base migrated to colder regions. [Adverb clause]

Most scientists believe that megalodon, which was a giant version of modern-day great white shark, went extinct nearly two million years ago. [Noun clause + Relative clause]

(For a dependent clause to be called an embedded clause, it has to be part of another clause. A standalone dependent clause, such as because its prey base migrated to colder regions, can be called dependent or subordinate clause, but not embedded.)

In the first three examples, you can say that the dependent clauses are embedded in the independent clause. In the fourth, the noun clause is embedded in the independent clause, and the relative clause is embedded in the noun clause.

There is some confusion though with regard to what constitutes embedded clauses. You’ll find few sources on the internet not counting adverb clause as an embedded clause because, unlike noun and relative clause, an adverb clause is clearly separated from the independent clause and hence doesn’t give the impression of being embedded. But this doesn’t seem to be true if we go by these two mentions about embedded clauses, both of which cover all three dependent clauses:

1. According to A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language by Randolph Quirk et al., “Clauses which are embedded in other clauses are SUBORDINATE clauses, and they are often introduced by a subordinating CONJUNCTION.” Two of the examples of embedded clauses the book gives are:

The weather has been remarkably warm since we returned from Italy last week. [Adverb clause]

The room has a large window, which faces south. [Relative clause]

2. According to An Introduction to the Grammar of English by Elly van Gelderen, “Sentences that are part of another sentence, i.e. that have function in that sentence, are often referred to as embedded clauses, where the embedded clause is seen as subordinate to the other.”

Embedded clause is one of the two ways to expand a sentence

Let’s take an example to understand how embedded clauses can expand a sentence.

Megalodon went extinct nearly two million years ago.

Megalodon, which was a giant version of modern-day great white shark, went extinct nearly two million years ago. [Embedded relative clause]

Megalodon, which was a giant version of modern-day great white shark, went extinct nearly two million years ago because its prey base migrated to colder regions. [Embedded relative clause + Embedded adverb clause]

We extended the first sentence by embedding two dependent clauses successively. To say the same without embedded terminology, we extended the sentence by adding more dependent clauses.

This was one of the ways to expand a sentence. The other is through coordinate clauses, which is nothing but adding independent clauses to a sentence. For example, you can further extend the second sentence by adding an independent clause.

Megalodon, which was a giant version of modern-day great white shark, went extinct nearly two million years ago, but scientists are still hunting evidence for more precise estimate.

If you noticed, we can create compound, complex, and compound-complex sentence from a simple sentence by adding embedded clauses and coordinate clauses.

What is an embedded sentence?

The sentence Most scientists believe that megalodon went extinct nearly two million years ago can be thought of as a result of combining these two sentences:

Megalodon went extinct nearly two million years ago.

Most scientists believe this.

In other words, the first sentence has been embedded into second, making it the embedded sentence among the two.

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