A lot of people seem to understand "matrix clause" as a synonym for "main clause". For instance, a comment I just chanced upon on a language SE site states:
It's a synonym for main clause (or independent clause) as opposed to subordinate clause (or dependent clause, or indeed embedded clause).
Even some Wikipedia articles seem to echo this:
Main clauses (matrix clauses, independent clauses) are those that can stand alone as a sentence.
That isn't exactly the way I understand the concept. I am under the impression that a matrix clause is a clause with an embedded clause, so it doesn't have to be a main clause, and on the other hand a main clause is not necessarily a matrix clause. Too bad matrix clause doesn't have its own Wikipedia page which would've settled this. But even the name matrix clause is an obvious clue as to its properties. As this discussion demonstrates, matrix comes from "mother" or "a female animal that gives birth to others", pointing to the fact that it is a clause with child clauses. Online sources1 also confirm my understanding:
A matrix clause is a clause that contains another clause. Thus, the main clause in (37), the professor told the students, is a matrix clause since it contains another clause... So the situation described in the embedded clause is contained by, and functions as an element of, the situation described by the matrix clause.
A matrix clause is often a main clause . . ., but it need not be: it can itself be a subordinate clause.
But it bothers me that my understanding and this definition run counter to that Wiki article. What exactly is a "matrix clause"?
1Books cited in this source:
- Martin J. Endley, Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar. Information Age, 2010
- R.L. Trask, Dictionary of English Grammar. Penguin, 2000