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. Let's see.

"Cleft Sentences" in the English Grammar

What Are Cleft Sentences?

A cleft sentence is a complex sentence that can be explained in a simple sentence. By using cleft sentences, 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'. In every language, there are various ways to put emphasis or focus on different parts of a sentence.

Why Do We 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. Here are some examples:

I called you Monday. → It was Monday that/when I called you.

I want a cup of coffee right now. → What I want right now is a cup of coffee.

Types of Cleft Sentences

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

  • It-cleft
  • Wh-cleft (Pseudo-cleft)
  • All-cleft
  • There-cleft
  • If-because cleft

It-cleft Sentences

The most common type of cleft sentence is it-cleft sentence. 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. An it-cleft sentence is followed by a verb phrase whose main verb is generally be. For example:

Jane's car got stolen last night. → It was Jane's car that got stolen last night.

As you can see, a single message is divided into two. The it-cleft sentence is used to show emphasis.

My boss sent me home today. → It was my boss that sent me home today.

Tom saw me yesterday. → It was me that tom saw yesterday.

'That' in It-cleft

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

I met your friend Suzy. → it was your friend Suzy (that) I met!

Here, 'that' is the object of the verb 'met', so we can either use it or remove it from the sentence.

You saw my mum yesterday. → It was my mum (that) you saw yesterday.

'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. For instance:

My father sent me back to Canada. → It was my father who/that sent me back to Canada.

Here, we can not omit 'that' or 'who' because they function as the 'subject' of the second clause.

You spoke to my father on the phone. → It was my father (who)/(that) you spoke to on the phone.

As you can see, when 'who' is the object, we are able to omit it in spoken English.

Plural Subject in It-cleft

When the focus of our sentence is a plural subject, 'it + be' remains the same, only the verb becomes plural. Take a look at these examples:

The boys won the cup. → It was the boys who won the cup.

Here, the speaker wants to say that 'the boys' not the girls or some other group, won the cup.

The grandparents were cheering the most. → It was the grandparents who were cheering the most.

Here, it is noticing that it was 'the grandparents' who were cheering, not anybody else.

Question Structure

The it-cleft sentences can also take a question form in informal speech and writing. Take a look at some examples down below:

Did the girls screamed last night? → Was it the girls who screamed last night?

Did Tom open the box? → Was it Tom who opened the box?

Negative Structure

The 'it-clause' can also get a negative form. Remember that when turning the it-clause into negative, the second sentence must be positive. Here are some examples:

My dad's car got stolen; not mine → It wasn't my car that got stolen; it was my dad's.

You have met my friend; not my brother. → It wasn't my brother (that) you have met; it was my friend.


We can use other pronouns instead of 'it', like 'that' or 'those'. Take a look at these examples to find out more:

You broke my glass → That is you who broke my glass.

You borrowed my books → Those were my books that you borrowed.

Inferential Cleft Sentences

Inferential Cleft Sentence is a type of 'it-cleft sentence' that tells us about what others may wrongly assume. Such sentences begin with it which is followed by the verb be. The structure is usually two consecutive it-that sentences. The first one is negative but the second clause is positive and makes clarification. An inferential cleft sentence may contain an adverb such as only or just. Here are some examples:

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

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

Wh-cleft Sentences

Generally, wh-cleft sentences (also called pseudo-cleft) begin with 'What. Usually, the wh-clause has understood information, while the following clause's information is new. Remember that, unlike it-cleft, new information does not come right after the wh-word since It is followed by the verb be. For example:

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

As you can see, the information that comes after 'is', is new and in focus.

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

John wants a good job. → What John wants is a good job.


Instead of using 'what', we can also use other wh-words such as why, where, how and etc. However, when you use why, whom, or how, your sentence may sound a little bit weird. Do not forget that the only wh-word that can not be used is 'whose'. Here are some examples:

I want to go to a place so far away from here. → Where I want to go is a place so far away from here.

She paid for her food with her credit card. → How she paid for her food was with her credit card.

He has an annual pass for the museum. → Why she goes to the museum is because she has an annual pass.

Reversed Wh-cleft Sentences

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

I want some peace and quiet. → some peace and quiet is what I want.

I want to go to a place so far away from here. → a place so far away from here is where I want to go.

The lion chased the giraffe. → chasing the giraffe is what the lion did.

an example of an all-cleft sentence

All-cleft Sentences

All-cleft sentences emphasize the object of the verb. As usual, they are followed by the verb be. It is possible to form questions from all-cleft sentences, but negative sentences are not very common. Take a look at some examples:

Jimmy wants a brand new bicycle for Christmas. → All Jimmy wants for Christmas is a brand new bicycle.

Here, 'a brand new bicycle' is in focus.

She complains about everything. → All she does is complain about everything.

Did she want a good job? → Was all she wanted a good job?

There-cleft Sentences

There-cleft Sentences have a similar function to an 'it-cleft'. They indicate the existence of something for emphasis. As subjects, they have a dummy "there" which is followed by the main verb be, as well as some intransitive verbs like come, exist and remain.

I'm trying to adopt this orphan kid. → There's this orphan kid (that) I'm trying to adopt.

Camille wanted to buy this new car. → There's a new car (that) Camille wanted to buy.

Someday you have to give up everything in life. → There comes a day in life that you have to give up everything.

As you can see, 'there' can be followed by an intransitive verb such as come.

If-because Cleft Sentences

If-because Cleft Sentences function similarly to inferential cleft sentences. By using the if-because cleft sentence you can simply create a reason for an action.

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

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

As you can see, we can use 'just' to emphasize more.


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


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 subject such as it or that.

We have several 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.

  • All-cleft

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

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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