Verb Review #7: Noun Clauses

By Maeve Maddox

Clauses function as one of three parts of speech: adverb, adjective, or noun. This review is about noun clauses.

Note: If you need to review the definition of a clause, go here.

I have found that students have more difficulty in identifying noun clauses than either of the other two kinds because a noun clause functions as an integral part of another clause.

Adverb clauses add meaning to another clause and can usually be identified by the conjunction that introduces them. Taking away the adverb clause removes information, but still leaves a complete thought:

The child wept when her balloon escaped.

The child wept.

Adjective clauses are attached to a noun or pronoun in another clause. They too are introduced by a distinctive word (relative pronoun). And, although they may add essential information to the other clause, a comprehensible clause remains when they are taken away. For example:

The senator who voted for the bill has been ostracized by his party.

The senator has been ostracized by his party.

When a noun clause is taken away for purposes of instruction, the words that remain do not convey a complete thought:

What I like best is broccoli.

is broccoli.

Like nouns, noun clauses can function as subjects, objects, or complements.

1. Subject of a verb
My favorite food is broccoli. (noun, subject of “is”)
What I like best is broccoli. (noun clause, subject of “is”)

2. Object of a verb
I know good students. (noun, object of “know”)
I know what makes a good student. (noun clause, object of “know”)

3. Object of a preposition
Teachers gladly share their knowledge with their students. (noun, object of “with”)
Teachers gladly share their knowledge with whoever wants it. (noun clause, object of “with:)

4. Complement of a being verb
Pecan pie is a popular dessert. (noun, complement of “is”)
Pecan pie is what many families have for dessert at Thanksgiving. (noun clause, complement of “is”)

Words used to introduce noun clauses include that, if, how, whether, and whatever. For example:

I said that he would be sorry.
Tell me if you want to go with us.
How he will persuade her is anyone’s guess.
Whether you go or stay is immaterial to me.
Whatever she does annoys her husband.

Modern speakers often drop that before a noun clause:

He said that he wanted a new job.
He said he wanted a new job.

The outlaws knew that their days were numbered.
The outlaws knew their days were numbered.

Here are some more words that may be used to introduce a noun clause:

who
whom
whose
which
that
what
when
where
why
whoever
whenever
wherever

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8 Responses to “Verb Review #7: Noun Clauses”

  • John

    “The outlaws knew [that] their days were numbered.” I would never drop “that” from this sentence.

  • Nancy R.

    “Teachers gladly share their knowledge with whoever wants it. (noun clause, object of ‘with’)”

    Should “whomever” be used here, instead of “whoever”?

  • Paola

    What is the difference between a noun clause and a cleft sentence? Thanks!

  • PreciseEdit

    @ Nancy
    “Whoever” is correct.
    The entire clause is the object of the preposition, but within the clause, “whoever” is the subject of “wants.” As the subject of a verb, the correct word is “whoever.” “Whomever” cannot be a subject. This is a very common error.

  • Maeve

    Nancy R.
    Re: “Teachers gladly share their knowledge with whoever wants it. (noun clause, object of ‘with’)”
    Should “whomever” be used here, instead of “whoever”?

    “Whoever” is the correct pronoun form because “who” is the subject form and “whoever” is the subject of “wants” in the clause “whoever wants it.” The entire clause functions as a noun. The entire clause is the object of the preposition “with.”

    This post may be of help:
    http://www.dailywritingtips.com/beware-of-whom/

  • Maeve

    Oops! PreciseEdit and I must have been responding at the same instant. Great minds!

  • Nancy R.

    Right after I hit SEND, I thought, “Oh, wait a minute…” We’re talking about noun clauses, and “whoever wants it” is the clause. Thanks for the affirmation.

  • PreciseEdit

    @ Nancy – I promise that we were not ganging up on you.

    @ Maeve – yeah! I win. (For once) Funny that our answers were nearly word for word identical.

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