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 emphasizes an element by rearranging the normal word order of a simple sentence with the help of a dummy word, such as 'it' or 'that'. This rearrangement allows for emphasis on a specific part of the sentence.

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. → 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.

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 (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 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. → 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 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. → 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 the sentence is a personal subject, we can use 'who' instead of 'that'. When 'who' is the object of the verb, it is often ommitted 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 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. → It was the boys who 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. → It was the grandparents who were cheering the most.

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

Question Structure

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? → 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 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 → 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', such as 'that' or 'those'. Take a look at the examples:

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

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

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

I am 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 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. → 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 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. → 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.

She 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 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 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 a cleft sentence using 'all'

All-cleft Sentences

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

Here, 'a brand new bicycle' is the 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 '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. → There's this orphan kid (that) I'm trying to adopt.

Camille wanted to buy this new car. → There's this 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 express the reason for an action. For example:

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 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 conditional sentences.


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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