Cleft Sentences

Cleft sentences are complex sentences that have a meaning we can express by a simple sentence. They are used to emphasize one part of a clause.

"Cleft Sentences" in the English Grammar

'Cleft' means 'divided' or 'split.' In every language, there are various ways to put emphasis or focus on different parts of a sentence. One way is by changing the word order.

What Are Cleft Sentences?

Cleft Sentences are sentences in which we put emphasis on an element by rearranging the normal word order of the sentence with the help of a dummy word such as 'it' or 'that'.

Why Do We Need to Use Cleft Sentences?

Cleft sentences are used especially in spoken English to join the part of a meaning that is understood to the part of the meaning that is new to the listener.

Using a cleft sentence is one way to add emphasis to what we want to say.

In a cleft sentence, a single message is divided (cleft) into two clauses. This allows us to focus on the new information.

Cleft Sentences: Types

There are different types of cleft sentences in the English language. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • It-cleft
  • Wh-cleft (also called Pseudo-cleft)
  • Reversed wh-cleft (also called Inverted pseudo-cleft)
  • All-cleft
  • Inferential cleft
  • There-cleft
  • If-because cleft

It-cleft Sentences

The most common type of cleft sentences is it-cleft sentences. The information that comes in the 'it-clause' is the focus of our sentence. The clause that follows the it-clause contains information that is already understood.

'Jennifer's car got stolen last night, right?' 'No. It was Jane's car that got stolen.'

Generally, 'that' is a conjunction that connects the clause which follows the it-clause. When 'that' is the object of the verb, we often omit that in spoken English.

'You've met my sister, right?' 'No, it was your friend Suzy [that] I met!'

'Who' instead of 'That'

When the focus of our sentence is a personal subject, instead of 'that,' we can use 'who.' When 'who' is the object of the verb, we often omit that in spoken English.

It was my father [who/that] you spoke to on the phone.

When the focus of our sentence is a plural subject, 'it + be' remains the same, only the verb becomes plural.

It's the grandparents who were cheering the most.

The 'it-clause' can also be in a negative strcture.

It wasn't my car that got stolen; it was my dad's.

Wh-cleft Sentences

Generally, wh-cleft (also called pseudo-cleft) sentences begin with 'What,' but they can also begin with other wh-words such as why, where, how, etc.
Typically the wh-clause has old or understood information, while the following clause's information is new and in focus.

'I have no idea what you want.' 'What I want is some peace and quiet.'

What you need to do is to rest for a while.

Reversed Wh-cleft Sentences

In a reversed wh-ceft (also called Inverted pseudo-cleft) sentence, the nominal relative clause comes at the end of the sentence.

Some peace and quiet is what I want.

Chasing the giraffe is what the lion did.

All-cleft Sentences

an example of an all-cleft sentence

All-cleft sentences emphasize the object of the verb. It is possible to form questions from all-cleft sentences, but negative sentences are not very common.

All Jimmy wants for Christmas is a brand new bicycle.

Was all she wanted a good job?

All she wanted wasn't a good job.

This sentence is grammatically correct, but it sounds weird and is not very common.

Inferential Cleft Sentences

Inferential Cleft Sentences tell us about what others may wrongly assume. Inferential Cleft clauses normally start with:

  • It's not that ...
  • it was that ...
  • It is only that ...
  • It's just that ...
  • It may be that ...

It is not that I don't love her. It's just that I show my love in a different way.

It's not that I'm not trying to help you. It's that I want you to learn.

There-cleft Sentences

There-cleft Sentences have a similar function to an it-cleft. They indicate the existence of something for emphasis.

There's this orphan kid I'm trying to adopt.

There's a new car Camille wanted to buy.

If-because Cleft Sentences

If-because Cleft Sentences function similarly to inferential cleft sentences. They emphasize that an assumption that people might make is not valid or true.

If he wants to be a millionaire it's because he wants to help poor children.

If it seems that she is meddling, it's because she's trying to help the family.

Warning

If-because cleft sentences contain the conjunction 'if' which is normally associated with conditionals; however, they are not considered conditionals.

Review

A cleft-sentence is usually a simple sentence that has turned into a complex sentence to emphasize a particular constituent. It is usually formed by an empty introductory word such as it or that.

There are types of cleft-sentences as mentioned in the following list.

  • It-cleft

It was John who broke his nose.

  • Wh-cleft

What he did is unforgiveable.

  • Reversed wh-cleft

A warm bath is exactly what I need now.

  • All-cleft

All he wants is to live alone far from his family.

  • Inferential cleft

It's not that I don't like him, it is just his manner that is not appropriate.

  • There-cleft sentences

There is a teacher whose exams are making me nervous.

  • If-because cleft sentences

If I tolerate your nagging cat, it is just because I enjoy living with you.

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