Here is a simple procedure you can use if you are trying to identify clauses either in a transcription of spoken English or in a written English text. This is only a guide and it may not be sufficiently robust to enable you to identify some of the more complex clause structures: it is not a fail-safe method. However, the principles are sound and it should serve to get you on your way.

We will use the following text as an example.

Jimmy got up at six-thirty today. His dog Patch was snoring lazily at the foot of the bed. He could tell that it was going to be a bad day right then, despite the sun shining through the open windows and lighting up the gloom within because it was a work day. He glanced hopefully at the clock on the dresser but knew that it would ring any moment. He knew he had to get out of bed.

Steps to identifying clauses

Step 1

Identify any verbs and verb phrases.

A clause always contains at least one verb, typically a lexical verb. Here are some examples (the verb phrases are marked in italic underline):

Jimmy got up at six-thirty today. His dog Patch was snoring lazily at the foot of the bed. He could tell that it  was going to be a bad day right then, despite the sun shining through the open windows and lighting up the gloom within because it was a work day. He glanced hopefully at the clock on the dresser but knew that it would ring any moment. He knew he had to get out of bed.

Step 2

Identify any conjunctions.

Identify coordinating conjunctions (coordinators) such as and, or, but, nor, and any subordinating conjunctions (subordinators) such as since, if, because, so. Conjunctions link clauses together. The coordinators and subordinators in our example text have been marked in bold purple and the clause boundaries marked by a double slash //, as follows.

//Jimmy got up at six-thirty today. //His dog Patch was snoring lazily at the foot of the bed. //He could tell //that it  was going to be a bad day right then, //despite the sun shining through the open windows //and lighting up the gloom within //because it was a work day. //He glanced hopefully at the clock on the dresser //but knew //that it would ring any moment. //He knew he had to get out of bed. //

In text-based materials, you may also have noted that periods or commas are frequently used to mark clause boundaries.

Step 3

Check again.

Sometimes you may find a clause that appears to contain more than one verb phrase. There is one such example in our text:

//He knew he had to get out of bed. //

This has two verb phrases, knew and had to get. In cases such as this, you need to identify who is the Subject of the verb phrases. In this instance, it is ‘he’ for both, i.e. HE knew and HE had to get out of bed. Consequently, you can insert a clause boundary here:

//He knew //he had to get out of bed. //

Summary

Here is the final analysis, presented as separate lines for ease of reading.

//Jimmy got up at six-thirty today.

//His dog Patch was snoring lazily at the foot of the bed.

//He could tell

//that it was going to be a bad day right then,

//despite the sun shining through the open windows

//and lighting up the gloom within

//because it was a work day.

//He glanced hopefully at the clock on the dresser

//but knew

//that it would ring any moment.

//He knew

//he had to get out of bed.

Acknowledgements

I’m not certain where the source material for this article came from. I’ve had some notes on my PC for a few years and it’s these that I’ve adapted to create the above. If you know who the source is then please get in touch and I’ll be pleased to make an appropriate acknowledgement here.