Noun Clauses


Ever since you first toddled into a school house door, your teachers have been telling you that a noun is a person, place or thing.


Unfortunately, some erudite linguists have demonstrated that such a definition is entirely too simple.


But since we arenít linguists, we will lock those fellows in the closet (metaphorically speaking, of course) and hang on to the definition we know: A noun is a person place or thing.




1. A noun is a part of speech.

2. Subjects and objects are parts of a sentence.

3. Nouns function as subjects or objects.

4. Therefore: Nouns = subjects or objects.





The burrito gave me heartburn.

("Burrito" and "heartburn" are the nouns in this sentence. "Gave" is the verb and "burrito" is the subject.)



But What About This One?



What I had for breakfast gave me heartburn.

(The verb is still "gave," but the subject is a noun clause: "What I had for breakfast.")



A sentence like the one above sends some people to the aspirin bottle.

Why isnít the subject "I"?

Why isnít it "breakfast"?




To find the subject of a sentence, locate the verb and ask who or what about the verb.



In the sentence above, ask "what gave me heartburn?"

"I"? clearly not.

"Breakfast"? not exactly.

"What I had for breakfast"? Right.


"But wait," you say. "I thought a noun was a person place or thing"?

It is. Think about "what I had for breakfast" as being a thing or things.




Let's look at some more examples:

(the noun clauses are underlined)


What the English teacher said was downright inspiring.

(This noun clause is used as a subject.)



The wonderful thing about English teachers is that they all get along so well.

(This noun clause is used as a subject complement)



I must decide which English course to take.

(This noun clause is used as a direct object.)



English teachers dispense wisdom to whoever will listen.

(This noun clause is the object of a preposition)



By now it is becoming clear that lots of dependent signals introduce noun clauses.

Below is a list.



Dependent signals which introduce noun clauses



Who Whom

Whose Which

That if

Whether What

When Where

How Why

And various forms of "-ever":

Whoever Whenever

Whatever Wherever



Lots of these words are flexible. They can do different things in different sentences.



Let's look at some more examples:


Don't all students wish they knew more grammar?

(Be careful here. The dependent signal, "that," is implied.)



The students don't know whether or not they can stay awake during the lecture.

(This is a noun clause used as a direct object)


Although I respected what the teacher said, I disagreed with his conclusion.

(Wow, this is tricky. This is a noun clause inside an adverb clause. The adverb clause is "Although I respected what the teacher said." The verb of the clause is "respected." The subject of the clause is "I." The direct object of the clause is "what the teacher said.")


Anyone who says that English teachers are boring will be punished.

(This is another tricky one. This is a noun clause inside an adjective clause. The adjective clause is "who says that English teachers are boring." The verb of the adjective clause is "says." The subject of the clause is "who." The object of the adjective clause is "that English teachers are boring." Isn't that neat? Doesn't that make you want to become an English teacher? Or at least marry one?)


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