What Are Cleft Sentences?
Why Do We Use Cleft Sentences?
Cleft sentences are commonly used in spoken English to connect the part of a message that is already understood with the part that is new information for the listener. By using a cleft sentence, we can emphasize the part of the message that we want to draw attention to. Here are some examples:
I called you Monday. →
I want a cup of coffee right now. →
Cleft Sentences: Types
There are different types of cleft sentences in the English language. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Wh-cleft (Pseudo-cleft)
- If-because cleft
The most common type of cleft sentence is it-cleft sentence. The information that comes in the 'it-clause' is the focus of the sentence. The clause that follows the it-clause contains information that is already understood. An it-cleft sentence is followed by a verb phrase. For example:
Jane's car 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. →
Tom saw me yesterday. →
'That' in It-cleft
Generally, 'that' is a complementizer that connects the it-clause to the clause that follows it. When 'that' is the object of the verb, it is often omitted in spoken English. For example:
I met your friend Suzy. →
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. →
'Who' Instead of 'That'
My father 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. →
As you can see, when 'who' is the object, we can omit it in spoken English.
Plural Subject in It-cleft
When the sentence has a plural subject, 'it + be' remains the same and only the main verb is plural. Take a look at these examples:
The boys won the cup. →
Here, the speaker wants to say that 'the boys' won the cup, not the girls or some other group.
The grandparents were cheering the most. →
Here, the sentence is emphasizing that it was 'the grandparents' who were cheering, not anybody else.
The it-cleft sentences can also take the form of questions in informal speech and writing. Take a look at some examples down below:
Did the girls scream last night? →
Did Tom open the box? →
The 'it-clause' can also be negative. Remember that when turning the it-clause negative, the second clause must be positive. Here are some examples:
My dad's car got stolen; not mine →
You have met my friend; not my brother. →
We can use other pronouns instead of 'it', such as 'that' or 'those'. Take a look at the examples:
You broke my glass →
You borrowed my books →
Inferential Cleft Sentences
An inferential cleft sentence is a type of 'it-cleft sentence' that clarifies what others may wrongly assume. These sentences typically start with 'it' followed by the verb 'be', and consist of two consecutive 'it-that' sentences. The first sentence is negative, while the second sentence is positive and provides clarification. Adverbs such as 'only' or 'just' may be included in an inferential cleft sentence. Here are some examples:
I love her. I just show my love in a different way. →
I am trying to help you. I only want you to learn. →
Generally, wh-cleft sentences (also called pseudo-cleft) begin with 'what'. Usually, the wh-clause contains information that is already understood, while the following clause contains new information. 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.' +'
As you can see, the information that comes after
You need to rest for a while. →
John wants a good job. →
Instead of using 'what', we can use other wh-words such as why, where, how, etc. However, the use of 'why', 'whom', or 'how', is not as common as 'what' and the resulting sentence may sound strange. The only wh-word that can not be used in this structure is 'whose'. Here are some examples:
I want to go to a place so far away from here. →
She paid for her food with her credit card. →
She has an annual pass for the museum. →
Reversed Wh-cleft Sentences
Reversed wh-cleft sentence (also called Inverted pseudo-cleft) is a type of wh-cleft sentence in which the nominal relative clause comes at the end of the sentence. For example:
I want some peace and quiet. → Some peace and quiet
I want to go to a place so far away from here. → A place so far away from here
The lion chased the giraffe. → Chasing the giraffe
All-cleft sentences emphasize the object of the verb. As usual, they are followed by the verb be. We can 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. →
Here, 'a brand new bicycle' is the focus.
She complains about everything. →
Did she want a good job? →
There-cleft sentences have a similar function to 'it-cleft' sentences. They emphasize the existence of something. 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'. For example:
I'm trying to adopt this orphan kid. →
Camille wanted to buy this new car. →
Someday you have to give up everything in life. →
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 express the reason for an action. For example:
He wants to be a millionaire to help poor children. →
It seems that she is meddling because she's trying to help the family. →
As you can see, we can use 'just' to emphasize more.
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.
- There-cleft sentences
- If-because cleft sentences
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