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Noun clauses in English language

Simple sentences are sentences that contain only one clause. Complex sentences, too, contain a single clause known as the main, independent, super ordinate, or matrix clause.[1] In addition to the main clause, however, complex sentences also contain one or more subordinate or dependent clauses.[2] For example, the sentences

  • Because the evening was terribly chilly, we lit a roaring fire

and

  • The puppy will sleep through the night assuming he tires himself out

are complex because both contain the subordinate clauses Because the evening was terribly chilly and assuming he tires himself out as well as the main clauses we lit a roaring fire and The puppy will sleep through the night. As constituents of the sentence as a whole, subordinate clauses are not arguments of the predicate and therefore not subjects or objects but instead function as modifiers of the entire main clause.[3] The four forms of clauses in English are verb clause, noun clause, adjective clause, and adverb clause. Verb clauses perform three grammatical functions: declaration, question, and command. Noun clauses perform eight functions: subject, subject complement, direct object, object complement, indirect object, prepositional complement, adjective phrase complement, and appositive. Adjective clauses perform the single function of noun phrase modifier. Adverbs perform the single function of adverbial.

Noun clauses perform eight main grammatical functions within sentences in the English language. The eight functions of noun clauses are:

  • Subject
  • Subject complement
  • Direct object
  • Object complement
  • Indirect object
  • Prepositional complement
  • Adjective phrase complement
  • Appositive

Noun clauses are defined as subordinate or dependent clauses formed by a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause. Noun clauses perform nominal functions, or functions prototypically performed by noun phrases.

The Forms and Functions of Clauses in English

Clauses are defined as grammatical structures that contain a subject and a predicate. The English language has four forms of clauses:[4]

  • Verb clause
  • Noun clause
  • Adjective clause
  • Adverb clause

Each grammatical form of clause in English performs distinct grammatical functions.

Verb Clauses

Verb clauses are defined as independent clauses formed by a subject and a predicate. For example, the following clauses are examples of verb clauses

  • The puppy is barking.
  • Did you take out the garbage?
  • Wash your hands!

Verb clauses perform verbal functions. Verbal functions correspond to the forms of sentences in English: declarative sentences, interrogative sentences, and imperative sentences. The three verbal functions in English grammar are:

  • Declaration or statement (declarative sentence)
  • Question (interrogative sentence)
  • Command (imperative sentence)

All sentences contain at least one verb clause. Verb clauses are also referred to as main clauses.

Noun Clauses

Noun clauses are defined as subordinate clauses formed by a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause. The subordinating conjunctions in English that introduce noun clauses are that, Ø, if, whether, wh- words, and wh-ever words. For example, the following clauses are examples of noun clauses:

  • The library will send a bill to whoever damaged this book.
  • Whether you will pay for the damage is not even a question.
  • The judge has given that you behaved well after your arrest some consideration.

Noun clauses perform nominal functions, or functions prototypically performed by noun phrases. The eight main functions of noun clauses in English grammar are:

  • Subject
  • Subject complement
  • Direct object
  • Object complement
  • Indirect object
  • Prepositional complement
  • Adjective phrase complement
  • Appositive

Noun clauses are also referred to as content clauses.

Adjective Clauses

Adjective clauses are defined as subordinate clauses formed by a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause. The subordinating conjunctions in English that introduce adjective clauses are who, whom, that, which, whose, when, and where. For example, the following clauses are examples of adjective clauses:

  • The woman that works in the bakery is my neighbor.
  • The car you hit belongs to the man whose daughter is my classmate.
  • The restaurant where you left you purse is known for its unique pasta dishes.

All adjective clauses perform the grammatical function of noun phrase modifier. Noun phrase modifiers are defined as words, phrases, and clauses that describe or modify a noun phrase. Adjective clauses are also referred to as relative clauses. The subordinating conjunctions that introduce adjective clauses are also called relative pronouns.

Adverb Clauses

Adverb clauses are defined as subordinate clauses formed by a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause. Some of the more common subordinating conjunctions in English that introduce adverb clauses include:

after

although

because

before

even though

if

once

since

so that

though

unless

until

when

whereas

while

For example, the following clauses are examples of adverb clauses:

  • After she gave the baby a bath, she decided to take a nap.
  • The girl cannot usually eat beef stew because she is allergic to carrots.
  • The couple has been saving money so that they can go on a vacation.

All adverb clauses perform the grammatical function of adverbial. Adverbials are defined as words and phrases that modify an entire clause by providing additional information about concession, condition, manner, place, purpose, reason, result, and time.

Subordination

Subordination is a way of combining sentences that makes one sentence more important than the other. It is connecting two unequal but related clauses with a subordinating conjunction to form a complex sentence. Sentences that use subordination have a main clause and one (more) subordinate clauses or dependent clause. A subordinate clause is a clause that is embedded as a constituent of a matrix sentence and that functions like a noun, adjective, or adverb in the resultant complex sentence.[5]

A clause is a grammatical unit that includes, at minimum, a predicate and an explicit or implied subject, and expresses a proposition. The most basic kind of sentence consists of a single clause; more complicated sentences may contain multiple clauses- including clauses contain within clauses. Learning the various terms used to define and classify clauses can be a vocabulary lesson in itself. Clauses are categorized into independent and dependent clauses. This simply means that some clauses can stand by themselves, as separate sentences, and some can’t. Another term for dependent clause is subordinate clause: this means that the clause is subordinate to another element (the independent clause) and depends on that other element for its meaning. The subordinate clause is created by a subordinating conjunction or dependent word.

There are three groups of words that used to connect clauses. They are:

  1. Subordinators

As, as if, as soon as, how, unless, until, while,

Whose, what, where, since, whom, although, because,

After, before, even though, that, though, so that, wherever, whenever.

  1. Coordinators

For, nor, or, so, and, but, yet.

  1. Conjunctive adverb, like:

Accordingly, besides, consequently, in contrast, meanwhile, moreover, indeed, instead, nevertheless, however, nonetheless.

The connectors written above are used in complex sentences. A complex sentence contains one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. The more important idea is put in the independent clause and less important one is put in the dependent clause.

Clauses that function in the nominal range

The subordinate clause in a complex sentence may function as its subject, direct object, indirect object, object of a preposition, or as a complement.

 

Clauses that function as subjects

Subordinate clauses can appear as subjects of main clauses:

  • That students enjoy grammar proves my point.
  • That he fled will convince the jury of his guilt.
  • That this arrangement may not work out is very upsetting.

We can apply our usual types of tests to show that these embedded clauses are subjects. We can replace them with ordinary NPs:[6]

  • This fact proves my point.
  • His flight will convince the jury of his guilt.
  • That possibility is very upsetting.

The pronouns that appear in this position must be in the nominative case:

  • They prove my point.
  • *Them prove my point.

Notice that when the subject of a sentence is an embedded sentence, the verb of that sentence is singular; that is, sentential subjects such as those above are regarded as singular.

Clauses that function as direct objects

The clauses below are the direct objects of the higher verb:

  • John claims he has earned his first million already.
  • We believe he exaggerates a great deal.

We can demonstrate that these embedded structures (typically called complement clauses) are the direct objects of the verbs like claim and believe by using a number of tests. The first test is that NPs substitute for them:

  • John claims silly things.
  • We believe his exaggerations.

We can also substitute accusative pronouns for them:

  • He claimed them.
  • We believed them.

The embedded clauses bear the same grammatical relationship to the verbs of their sentences as the NPs that replace them, and pronouns that replace them must be in the accusative case. These are clearly direct object NPs, so the clauses they replace must also be direct objects. We now introduce a slight complication to the pattern above. Sentences can be paraphrased as:

  • John claims that he has earned his first million already.
  • We believe that he exaggerates a great deal.

These sentences include that at the beginning of the embedded clause. Words that introduce clauses in this way have various names. Traditionally, as we saw in our chapter on Minor Parts of Speech, that (and similar words) has been called a subordinating conjunction. Because it introduces complement clauses, many linguists refer to it as a complementizer. Because the complementizer occurs in the COMP position, as we described in our chapter on Modifications of Basic Clause Patterns, it must be part of the subordinate clause, as shown by the fact that whenever we move a clause, its complementizer must move too.

  • It is that he has earned a million that John claims.
  • It is that he exaggerates that we believe.

If we leave the complementizer in its old position, the result is ungrammatical.

  • *It is he has earned a million that John claims that.
  • *It is he exaggerates that we believe that.

When we move elements, we move entire phrases, not just parts of them.

Indirect question clauses, such as those below, are another type of direct object clause. They are sentences in which the verb of the main clause names a questioning speech act, such as ask, wonder, and the like, and the subordinate clause is a wh- or if- clause with no subject-auxiliary inversion:

  • I wonder who the culprit is. [wh-clause]
  • I asked him whether he was ready to leave. [whether clause]

These can be paraphrased as direct questions such as, “Who is the culprit?” I wonder and “Are you ready to leave?” she asked. Notice that subject-auxiliary inversion occurs in direct questions, but not in indirect questions. Indirect questions must be distinguished from similar sentences with wh clauses in direct object position such as:

  • I know what the thief took.

These cannot be paraphrased as direct questions, but can be paraphrased by expanding the wh-phrase into a full NP:

I know which thing(s) the thief took.

Clauses that function as indirect objects

In the example below, the subordinated clause is the indirect object of gave:

  • We gave whoever was there a French pastry.

We can demonstrate that this indirect question is the IO of this sentence by applying the usual tests—Pro-Sub and passive:

  • We gave him a French pastry.
  • Whoever was there was given a French pastry.

IO clauses are much more restricted than subject or direct object clauses. They seem to be restricted to clauses that refer to animate entities, which is not altogether surprising when we consider the typical semantic roles of the IO phrase, namely, Recipient or Beneficiary.

Clauses that function as objects of prepositions

Prepositions also may take sentential objects, most readily when they begin with who(ever) and similar words. The following clauses are the objects of the prepositions that precede them:

  • We gave the pastry to whoever would eat it.
  • We left the crumbs for whichever birds came by.
  • We slept in what we had worn all day.

We know that the clause is the object of the preposition that precedes it because if we substitute a pronoun for the clause it must be in its object form:

  • We gave the pastry to her.
  • We left the crumbs for them.

We can also isolate the entire prepositional phrase:

  • It was to whoever would eat them that we gave the pastries.
  • It was to her that we gave the pastries.

 

Clauses that function as complements

Subordinate clauses also function as subject or object complements and as complements within NPs.

 

Subject complements:

Linking verbs often allow their subject complements to be expressed as clauses:

  • The proposal is that we should teach language, not grammar.
  • The problem is that it is not my phone.
  • The claim is that analyses must be supported by arguments.

Object complements:

Some verbs that take object complements allow those complements to be expressed as clauses:

  • She dyes her hair whatever color her car is.
  • They elected her whatever she wanted to be.

Complements in NPs:

Certain classes of nouns take complements, which may be expressed as clauses:

  • The idea that the Earth is only a few thousand years old has been utterly disproved.
  • The claim that genetics determines character is intriguing.

Note the overlap between nouns that take complement clauses and nouns that can occur as the head of the subject of a sentence with a subject complement clause, e.g., idea. In fact, a NP with a complement clause can typically be rephrased as a subject complement sentence with a clausal complement.

Forms and functions of noun clauses

Non clause is a dependent clause that functions as a noun. It can be a subject, object, or subject complement. Noun clause performs as a nominal clause when a subordinate clause assumes the grammatical function of a noun in a sentence. Like a noun phrase, nominal can perform as a subject, object, or subject of complement. The following sentences are the examples:

 

  • What you will do to pay the damages not even my problem. (subject)
  • The library will send a bill to whoever damaged these books. (object)
  • His grandmother knows that his biggest mistake is that he did not finish college. (complement)

 Forms

 Interrogative Words

Included what, who, whom, when, where, why, how. Subordinator question word is used to connect dependent clause and independent clause.

  • The question is how to get money to pay all these stuff.
  • He is the man who I saw last Sunday at supermarket.

 

Interrogative words + ever

Such as whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, whomever. Below are the meanings of these subordinators:

  • Whoever and whomever means any person
  • Whatever and whichever means anything
  • Wherever means any place
  • However means any way
  • Whenever means any time.

 

Whether / If

When a yes or no question changed into a noun clause, whether or if clause is used to introduce the clause. A whether or if clause is formed by:

Whether / if + Subject + Verb + Complement

Whether is more acceptable in formal English. It implies choice among alternatives rather than a strict yes/no decision.

  • I do not know whether (or not) she made an appointment.

If is quite commonly used, especially in speaking. If often implies a yes/no answer.

  • I asked Johnny if he paid the bill.

Functions

Noun clauses perform nominal functions, or functions prototypically performed by noun phrases. There are eight functions of noun clauses. The explanations are given below.[7]

Noun Clauses as Subjects

The first grammatical function that noun clauses can perform is the subject. Subjects are defined as words, phrases, and clauses that perform the action of or act upon the predicate. For example, the following noun clauses function as subjects:

  • Whoever ate my breakfast is in big trouble.
  • How you will finish all your homework on time is not my problem.

Noun Clauses as Subject Complements

The second grammatical function that noun clauses can perform is the subject complement. Subject complements are defined as words, phrases, and clauses that follow a copular verb and describe the subject. For example, the following noun clauses function as subject complements:

  • The truth was that the moving company lost all your furniture.
  • My question is whether you will sue the company for losses.

Noun Clauses as Direct Objects

The third grammatical function that noun clauses can perform is the direct object. Direct objects are defined as words, phrases, and clauses that follow and receive the action of a transitive verb. For example, the following noun clauses function as direct objects:

  • The counselor has been wondering if she chose the right career.
  • Do you know when the train should arrive?
  • Our dog eats whatever we put in his bowl.

Noun Clauses as Object Complements

The fourth grammatical function that noun clauses can perform is the object complement. Object complements are defined as words, phrases, and clauses that directly follow and describe the direct object. For example, the following noun clauses function as object complements:

  • Her grandfather considers his biggest mistake that he did not finish college.
  • I have often declared the problem that most students do not understand grammar.

 

Noun Clauses as Indirect Objects

The fifth grammatical function that noun clauses can perform is the indirect object. Indirect objects are defined as words, phrases, and clauses that follow a intransitive verb and indicate to or for whom or what is action of the verb is performed. For example, the following noun clauses function as indirect objects:

  • The judge will give what you said some deliberation during her decision.
  • The group has given that most Americans do not support their cause little consideration.

Noun Clauses as Prepositional Complements

The sixth grammatical function that noun clauses can perform is the prepositional complement. Prepositional complements are defined as words, phrases, and clauses that directly follow a preposition to complete the meaning of the prepositional phrase. For example, the following noun clauses function as prepositional complements:

  • Some people believe in whatever organized religion tells them.
  • My husband did not think about that I wanted some nice jewelry for my birthday.

Noun Clauses as Adjective Phrase Complements

The seventh grammatical function that noun clauses can perform is the adjective phrase complement. Adjective phrase complements are defined as phrases and clauses that complete the meaning of an adjective phrase. For example, the following noun clauses function as adjective phrase complements:

  • I am pleased that you are studying noun clauses.
  • The toddler was surprised that throwing a tantrum did not get him his way.

Noun clauses most often function as adjective phrase complements when the adjective phrase is performing the function of subject complement.

Noun Clauses as Appositives

The eighth grammatical function that noun clauses can perform is the appositive. Appositives are defined as words, phrases, and clauses that describe or explain another noun phrase. For example, the following noun clauses function as appositives:

  • That man, whoever is he, tried to steal some library books.
  • The problem, which the storm knocked out power, is affecting the entire town.

Noun clauses classified according to internal structure

We have been looking at the way noun clauses can be classified according to their function in the structure of complex sentences. They can also be classified according to their internal grammatical form. Frequently, noun clauses of the same internal form can have different structural roles. For example, classified according to function, the first of the following noun clauses is a subject, the second an object. Classified according to internal form, they are both that clauses

  • That she identified the shell is certain.
  • I know that she identified the shell.

Moreover, these sentence-structure roles could also be played by -ing clauses, as in

  • Even as a child, looking for shells was her only pleasure.

and

  • She loves looking for shells.

Or by to infinitive clauses, as in

  • To distinguish between the shells was easy for her.

and

  • She planned to write a book about her shells.

Similarly, ‘interrogative clauses’ can be either subjects or objects. The clause in the following sentences a subject

  • Why she loved the shell so much is hard to understand

and in the following sentence it is an object

  • She eventually forgot why she loved the shell so much

And the same is true of relative noun clauses:

  • What she was looking for is the most beautiful shell in the world.
  • He was holding what looked like a gift.

It is not always easy to distinguish between interrogative and nominal relative noun clauses. On a semantic level the best we can say perhaps is that interrogative clauses are used when there is a question in the background: The sentences that contain them are concerned in one way or another with gaining knowledge, with finding out, with acquiring desired information. In the examples given above the background question would be:

  • “Why did she love the shell so much?”

Semantically, relative noun clauses are characterized by the fact that there is no such gap of information. Often relative noun clauses are used when both speaker and listener know what is being referred to and could describe it in a more specific manner. For example I may tell you, I got what I wanted, when both you and I know that what I wanted was a pound of shrimp. One good way of getting a grasp on the distinction between the two types of clause is to consider examples of ambiguous sentences where the ambiguity lies in whether the noun clause is interpreted as interrogative or relative. Take for example the sentence

  • I forgot what he asked for.

This sentence may be interpreted as meaning either that I know very well what he asked for but forgot to bring it — in which case the object is a relative noun clause. Or it may be interpreted as meaning that I don’t know any longer what is he asked for — in which case the object is an interrogative noun clause.

Only relative noun clauses can be concrete — that is to say only they can refer to a physical object like a table or chair. Therefore, given a sentence like

  • I paid for what she bought.

we know immediately that the object is a relative noun clause because the verb paid for cannot possibly take an abstract object.

On a more grammatical level there are several ways of distinguishing between the two types of clause: unlike interrogative relative clauses may take a plural verb when they are subjects as in

  • What friends he had are all dead now.

Moreover the compound clause introducers whatever, whenever, and whichever can be used in relative noun clauses but not in interrogative clauses. There is also a possibility of changing the position of the prepositions when an interrogative clause is inside a prepositional phrase. For example

  • I don’t know on what day she’s coming.

can be changed to

  • I don’t know what day she’ll be coming on.

But this shift is not possible with relative nominal clauses. The preposition in

He finished what he was working on.

cannot be moved.

Reduction of noun clauses

In summary, nominal clauses can have five different types of internal grammatical structure. Three of these types are finite and two are non-finite.

FINITE:

  • that-noun clauses
  • interrogative noun clauses
  • relative noun clauses

NON-FINITE:

  • to-infinitive noun clauses
  • -ing noun clauses

However, it is not possible to reduce a finite noun clause to a non-finite one. Usually, a particular sort of context requires a particular sort of noun clause. In other words, the grammatical form of the noun clause is normally determined by the associated verb or adjective. Compare, for example,

  • They suggested that she donate her shells to the museum.

with

  • They asked her to donate her shells to the museum.

The object of the first sentence is a finite noun clause, the object of the second sentence a non-finite noun clause. However, the object of the first sentence cannot be abbreviated to a non-finite clause — nor can the object of the second sentence be expanded into a finite clause. This is because the verb, suggest requires a that-clause as its subject and the verb, ask, requires a to-clause as its subject.

There are cases where the same verb can take two different types of noun clause as its object. For example, we can say either

  • She started writing her book about shells.

or

  • She started to write her book about shells.

This is only possible with certain verbs, however, and, in any case, it is not a matter of abbreviation but only a matter of replacing one sort of non-finite clause with another.

One type of noun clause, the that-clause, can be systematically abbreviated in another way, however: When such a clause plays the role of object, the conjunction, that, can be removed. The example given above of an that-clause object could correctly be written:

  • She believed the shell was extremely valuable.

Care must be taken in omitting that from such sentences, however, because doing so sometimes leads to confusion. For example, omission of that would be a mistake in the sentence

  • The general decided that on April 15 he would march toward Moscow.

because without that, in

  • The general decided on April 15 he would march toward Moscow.

we cannot tell whether April 15 is the date the decision is made or the date the march will begin. Similarly, in

  • Jerry believes that he is right and that he will win in the end

the first that can be removed, but the second one must remain because, without it, the meaning of the sentence will be drastically changed.

CONCLUSION

A clause is a grammatical unit that includes, at minimum, a predicate and an explicit or implied subject, and expresses a proposition. The most basic kind of sentence consists of a single clause; more complicated sentences may contain multiple clauses- including clauses contain within clauses. Learning the various terms used to define and classify clauses can be a vocabulary lesson in itself. Clauses are categorized into independent and dependent clauses. This simply means that some clauses can stand by themselves, as separate sentences, and some can’t. Another term for dependent clause is subordinate clause: this means that the clause is subordinate to another element (the independent clause) and depends on that other element for its meaning. The subordinate clause is created by a subordinating conjunction or dependent word.

Noun clauses are defined as subordinate or dependent clauses formed by a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause. Noun clauses perform nominal functions, or functions prototypically performed by noun phrases. The subordinating conjunctions in English that introduce noun clauses are that, Ø, if, whether, wh- words, and wh-ever words. Non clause is a dependent clause that functions as a noun. It can be a subject, object, or subject complement. Noun clause performs as a nominal clause when a subordinate clause assumes the grammatical function of a noun in a sentence. Like a noun phrase, nominal can perform as a subject, object, or subject of complement. Noun clauses can be classified according to their function in the structure of complex sentences, but they can also be classified according to their internal grammatical form.

Relative noun clauses are characterized by the fact that there is no such gap of information. Often relative noun clauses are used when both speaker and listener know what is being referred to and could describe it in a more specific manner. It is not always easy to distinguish between interrogative and nominal relative noun clauses. On a semantic level the best we can say perhaps is that interrogative clauses are used when there is a question in the background: The sentences that contain them are concerned in one way or another with gaining knowledge, with finding out, with acquiring desired information.

REFERENCES

  1. Biber, Douglas, Susan Conrad, and Geoffrey Leech. (2002). Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow, UK: Longman.
  1. Jacobs, Roderick A. (1995). English syntax: A grammar for English language professionals. New York: Oxford University Press.
  1. Hartmann, R.R.K. & Stork, F.C. (1972) Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. London: Applied Science Publishers.
  1. Hopper, Paul J. (1999). A short course in grammar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
  1. Huddleston, Rodney. (1984). Introduction to the Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  1. Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svarkvik. (1985). A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.

[1] Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svarkvik. (1985). A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.

[2] Hopper, Paul J. (1999). A short course in grammar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

[3] Jacobs, Roderick A. (1995). English syntax: A grammar for English language professionals. New York: Oxford University Press.

[4] Huddleston, Rodney. (1984). Introduction to the Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

[5] Hartmann, R.R.K. & Stork, F.C. (1972) Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. London: Applied Science Publishers.

[6] Biber, Douglas, Susan Conrad, and Geoffrey Leech. (2002). Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow, UK: Longman.

[7] Jacobs, Roderick A. (1995). English syntax: A grammar for English language professionals. New York: Oxford University Press.

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