I understand what a matrix clause is, but was curious why it's called a "matrix" clause.

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    Because the matrix clause -- particularly the matrix predicate -- governs, binds, and sets the boundary conditions for the rest of the sentence. The metaphor is jewels set in a metal matrix to make jewelery; the size and nature of the matrix determines the physical characteristicss of what it can contain, just like a matrix predicate.
    – jlawler
    Oct 10, 2014 at 23:08
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    To add to @jlawler's comment: 'Matrix' comes from 'mater', Latin for 'mother'. On a somewhat related note, a matrix in a mathematical/tabular sense is so called because the cells in the womb are arranged very close to a square grid. Oct 11, 2014 at 13:26
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    Both of you should post your comments as an answer. (At least I will vote)
    – purlupar
    Apr 27, 2016 at 12:33

2 Answers 2


In classical Latin matrix means "a female animal kept for breeding". Then in late and mediaeval Latin it takes on the meaning "womb". All of its usages in English involve the concept of embedding one thing into another, like a foetus in a womb.

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    Out of curiosity, Latin mātrīx derives from māter, naturally a cognate of "mother". Kinda like "motheress" or "motherix" (with the same -trix as in "dominatrix" or "aviatrix"). Jul 31, 2017 at 15:39

If you understand what matrix clause is, the way I do :

One clause may be embedded within another, that is, it may be used as a constituent part of another clause. Such a clause is called an embedded clause (or a subordinate clause) and the clause within which it is embedded is called the matrix clause.

This resembles one of the meaning of matrix which is also used to refer mass of fine-grained rock in which gems, crystals, or fossils are embedded.

e.g: nodules of secondary limestone set in a matrix of porous dolomite.

P.S : comments by @jlawler and @Xophmeister indicate almost the same.

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