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Subordination, by Sonia Cristofaro (Oxford University Press, 2003)


Words, phrases, and clauses that make one element of a sentence dependent on (or subordinate to) another.

Clauses joined by coordination are main clauses. This is in contrast to subordination, which joins a main clause and a subordinate clause.

See also:


From the Latin, "to set in order"

Examples and Observations:

  • "While the miser is merely a capitalist gone mad, the capitalist is a rational miser."
    (Karl Marx)

  • "You'd better beat it. You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff."
    (Groucho Marx)

  • "Unless one is inordinately fond of subordination, one is always at war."
    (Philip Roth)

  • "Subordination-heavy sentences are probably our most common type of sentence, either spoken or written, though they are more complicated than they may seem at first glance. In fact, this sentence by Thomas Cahill seems quite ordinary until we examine it more closely:
    In the time-honored fashion of the ancient world, he opens the book at random, intending to receive as a divine message the first sentence his eyes should fall upon. -- How the Irish Saved Civilization (57)
    Cahill's basic sentence about St. Augustine is 'he opened the book.' But the sentence begins with two orienting prepositional phrases ('In the time-honored fashion' and 'of the ancient world') and adds detail at the end with a prepositional phrase ('at random') and a participial phrase ('intending . . .'). There is also an infinitive phrase ('to receive . . .') and a subordinate clause ('his eyes should fall upon'). For the reader, comprehending this sentence is much simpler than describing it."
    (Donna Gorrell, Style and Difference. Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

  • "[T]he notion of subordination will be defined here exclusively in functional terms. Subordination will be regarded as a particular way to construe the cognitive relation between two events, such that one of them (which will be called the dependent event) lacks an autonomous profile, and is construed in the perspective of the other event (which will be called the main event). This definition is largely based on the one provided in Langacker (1991: 435-7). For instance, in Langacker's terms, the English sentence in (1.3),
    (1.3) After she drank the wine, she went to sleep.
    profiles the event of going to sleep, not the event of drinking the wine. . . . What matters here is that the definition pertains to cognitive relations between events, not any particular clause type. This means that the notion of subordination is independent of the way in which clause linkage is realized across languages."
    (Sonia Cristofaro, Subordination. Oxford Univ. Press, 2003)
Pronunciation: sub-BOR-di-NA-shun
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