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Subordinate Clauses (Content / *Noun Clause)

Include complex content within a larger structure

X structure diagram
leaf fall
We noticed that the leaves had fallen.
‹ diagram ›
► What is a content clause? ▼ Explanation of term

A content clause (also called a finite clause or an independent clause):

  • expresses that a subject (person, place, thing, object, concept, etc.) takes action to do something, causes something to happen, or experiences or undergoes a change in state.
  • functions as:
    • a simple clause. The leaves fell.
    • as a coordinate clause: The leaves fell and they blew away.
    • as a subordinate clause:
      • a subject. That the leaves had fallen was noticeable.
      • a predicate complement. We know that leaves fall.
      • the complement to a preposition in an adjunct phrase. They noticed the tree because its leaves had fallen.
  • takes form as:
    • a simple clause:
      • with at minimum a subject and predicate. Wind blows.  [N + V]
      • with phrases (NP, AdjP, AdvP, PP etc.) and a predicate (VP) The wind   is blowing   the leaves.  [NP + VP + NP]
      • with complements—elements required by the subject and predicate to make sense. The boy put the leaf down. [NP + V + NP + PP]
    • a clause with dependents:
      • may also include adjuncts—nonessential element.  The wind blew the leaves on the ground.
      • may also include supplements—nonessential elements that are loosely related, expressing opinion or related to the speech act.  Perhaps, the wind blew them off. Frankly, I have no idea.  See Stance Adverbs.
    • a subordinate clause (also called "embedded clause")
      • a declarative clause, marked by that, which completes a thought. (e.g., know, think, agree, believe). I think that you are right. See Declarative.
      • a statement clause, marked by that, which embeds quoted speech. (e.g., say, admit, announce) in a statement. He says that you are right. See Statements.
      • an imperative clause, marked by that, which embeds an order or strong wish. (e.g., insist, order, tell) in a statement. He insisted that we clean up. See Imperatives.
      • a closed question clause, marked by if or whether, which embeds a question. (answerable by yes or no) in a statement; He asked whether the leaves had fallen. See Yes-No Questions.
      • an open question clause with an interrogative pronoun as the head of the clause—who, what, why, when, where, how—which embeds a question in a statement. He told me why they had fallen. See Wh-Question.

The name "content clause" differentiates this basic clause from the two other clause types—relative clause (modifying) and comparative clause (comparing).  (Huddleston 2 §10)

 

 

Modern grammar description separates

(1) function "what a word, phrase or clause does in a clause" (e.g., subject, predicate, modifier)  For example, the function of Subject can be realized by a noun, noun phrase, a gerund, an infinite or a clause.

(2) word category "what a word, phrase or clause is called" (e.g., Noun, Verb, Adjective, Adverb) This has also been referred to as "part of speech". The members of a particular word/phrase category share properties with other words/phrases in the same category.

 

Renamed Terms

  • Adjective Clause is a traditional grammar term for a clause that modifies a noun. However, in modern description "Adjective" is a term reserved for the word category Adjective (Adjective Properties). The clause is a modifier (not an adjective) to the noun. For this reason, the clause is referred to as a relative clause because it relates additional information to the noun.  
  • Adverb Clause is a traditional grammar term for a clause that modifies the verb. However, the adverbs (when, while, because, since, though, if , so, etc.) have been reanalyzed and moved to the category Preposition (Preposition Properties). The structure is now called a Prepositional Phrase (not a clause). See Connective Prepositions.
  • Noun Clause is a traditional grammar term for an embedded clause that functions as the subject or "object" (predicate complement), of the clause in a similar way that a noun does. However, a clause is a structure; it cannot be a word, a "noun". (See Noun Properties).  For this reason, the structure is called a subordinate clause or content clause because it adds information or content in a complex form within a clause.

See The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, 11 §3.1 and Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English, 2.13. 

 

 

*Noun clause is an out-of-date term. See "Renamed Terms" at the bottom of "What is a content clause?" (link above).

 

 

 

Subordinate Clauses  (Content Clauses)

Summary of Practices

 

 

That–Clause: package information into a content clause

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

John Glenn NASA

That we need more people in math and science is clear to all.  (subject)

We know that we need more people in math and science.  (complement or "object")

Subordinate Statements  (reported or indirect speech)

Statement Clauses: restate quoted speech within a clause (reported or indirect speech)

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

Couple under umbrella

She said, "It's raining here."

She said that it was raining there.

Said Synonyms: explore other words for reporting speech (reported or indirect speech)

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

speaker

She said to me that it is nearby.

She told me that it is nearby.

She added that it is nearby.

Imperative Clauses: restate a command within a clause (reported or indirect speech)

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

A girl resting

The doctor said, Get some rest."

The doctor said to get some rest.

The doctor said (that) I should get some rest.

The doctor told me to get some rest.

The doctor advised that I get some rest.

Wh-Question Clauses: restate a question within a clause (reported or indirect speech)

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

A friendly greeting

My friend said, "How are you?"

My friend asked how I was.

Yes/No-Question Clauses: restate a question within a clause (reported or indirect speech)

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

Man asking questions

My friend said, "Are you coming with us?"

My friend asked whether I was going with them.

 

Cleft Clauses:  relocate information in a clause for emphasis

Advanced ESL, Native Speaker

energy!

His energy amazed me

What amazed me was his energy.

His energy was what amazed me.

It amazed me that he had so much energy.

It as Subj Placeholder: reposition content with the pronoun it

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

Fred Armisen and Barak Obama

It is obvious to all that Fred is a funny comedian.
That Fred is a funny comedian  is obvious to all.

It amazed us what he said. (that which)
What he said amazed us.

It was a particularly funny joke.
There was a particularly funny joke.

It seems /occurs / is likely: express opinion about a situation

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

uncertain teen

It seems that she is doing well.

It appears to me that she likes her classes.

It occurred to me that she would probably like that.

It happens that she knows an old friend of mine.

It strikes me as odd that she would quit ballet.

It seems odd to me that she would quit anything.

The Reason Is + Cls: specify reason by grouping or moving content

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

Hire me

The reason that he can't find a job is the weak economy.
He can't find a job because the economy is weak.

The reason is logical.   "be - describing"

The reason is the economy. "be - specifying"

→The reason is that the economy is weak.

~The reason why is that the economy is weak.

~The reason is because the economy is weak.

~The reason for that is that the economy is weak.

What Phrases: package content for emphasis

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

comedian

What he said  was funny.  (that + which he said)

What was funny  was his expression

 

Wh-ever Phrases: refer to any one or express "free choice"

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speakers

gossip 

Whatever you say is confidential.

You can take whomever you want.

Whatever way will be fine.

Whatever! 

Subordinate Clauses with Final Prepositions

Ending with a Preposition: examine placement options

Intermediate–Advanced ESL, Native Speaker

A mismatch on a date

Who did you give your number to?

To whom did you give your number?  very formal

Can you tell me — what kind of person you are interested in?

Can you tell me — in what kind of person you are interested?

The word — that you looked up — is not in my dictionary.

The word — up which you looked — is not in my dictionary.

Subordinate Clause Quiz Practice

Subordinate Clause Quiz: auto-correcting quiz

cats every where

The old lady next door must have a lot of cats. I don't know how many…

Report Speech Quiz: auto-correcting quiz

runners

"I've been running about five years now."

The runner replied that…