Noun Clauses

Mostly, the English learners are ok with the idea of nouns, but when it comes to noun clauses, they may not be as confident as they are with nouns. Read more.

"Noun Clauses" in the English Grammar

What Is a Noun Clause?

A noun clause (also called a nominal clause) is a clause that functions as a noun. These clauses are always dependent clauses; that is, they do not form a complete sentence.

Structure of Noun Clauses

Like all clauses, a noun clause has a subject and a verb. Consider these examples:

They know Carlos Mattel.

In this example, the object of the sentence is a noun.

They know that greenhouse gases can affect the climate.

In this example, the object of the sentence is a noun clause.

Furthermore, a noun clause typically starts with a 'wh-word' (what, who, which, when, where, why, how) or 'that.' Pay attention to the following list:

  1. Relative pronouns: that, which, who, whom, whose, what
  2. Indefinite relative pronouns: whoever, whomever, whatever, whichever
  3. Interrogatives: who (interrogative pronoun), what (interrogative adjective), how (interrogative adverb)
  4. Subordinating conjunctions: if, whether, when, why

I saw that it happened.

I saw how it happened.

I saw why it happened.

How to Identify Noun Clauses

To find out whether a phrase or clause is functioning as a noun or not, try replacing it with a pronoun. If the resulting sentence still makes sense, your phrase or clause is functioning as a noun. Pay attention to the following examples:

What you did is important. → It is important.

By replacing 'what you did' with a pronoun you can see that 'What you did' is functioning as a noun.

Teach me how to make these cakes. → Teach me them.

By replacing 'how to make these cakes' with a pronoun you can see that 'how to make these cakes' is functioning as a noun.

Uses of Noun Clauses

A noun clause can be used as:

Noun Clauses as Subjects

Subjects in grammar are words, phrases, or clauses that do the action of verbs. They can be nouns, pronouns, and noun clauses. Take a look at the following examples:

Why she ever dated such an idiot in the first place is beyond me.

In this example, the noun clause acts as the subject of the independent clause.

Whoever is responsible for this mess will be punished.

What you said yesterday really hurt me.

Noun Clauses as Direct Objects

Using a Noun Clause as the Object

Noun clauses can function as direct objects of the verb in the sentence (the independent clause).
Direct objects are words, phrases, or clauses that receive the action of a transitive verb. Examples of noun clauses as direct objects include the following:

He finally confessed that he had been having an affair with a woman from the neighborhood.

You can choose what you want to do next.

Noun Clauses as Indirect Objects

Noun clauses can also function as indirect objects of the verb in the sentence (the independent clause).
Indirect objects are words, phrases, or clauses that receive the action of a ditransitive verb. Take a look at some examples of noun clauses as indirect objects:

I should have given what my friends said about moving out of my parents house some thought.

She will tell whoever will listen her terrifying story.

Noun Clauses as Objects of Prepositions

Other times, noun clauses can act as the object of a preposition in the independent clause. For example:

I like to keep a schedule of when I have upcoming appointments.

In the sentence above, the noun clause 'when I have upcoming appointments' is acting as the object of the preposition 'of.'

My teacher is writing a book about how people can improve their social skills.

Noun Clauses as Subject Complements

Noun clauses can act as subject complements (nouns that follow linking verbs). Noun clauses that function as subject complements are also referred to as predicate nominatives and predicate nouns.

You can become whomever you want to be in life.

In the sentence above, the noun clause 'whomever you want to be' is the subject complement of the linking verb become.

The problem is that street crime is getting worse every year.

Noun Clauses as Appositives

Appositives are words, phrases, or clauses that describe or modify another word, phrase, or clause. Typically nouns and noun phrases function as appositives, but noun clauses can also perform this grammatical function.

The problem, that street crime is getting worse every year, worries the whole community.

The answer from her husband, that they should get a divorce, devastated her.

Clauses: Nominal or Adverbial?

Identifying the different types of dependent clauses can be confusing, but one way to distinguish between adverbial and nominal clauses is to ask the following questions about the clause:

  • If the clause answers the questions, 'who?' or 'what?,' then it is a noun clause.
  • If the clause answers the questions: 'where?,' 'how?,' 'when?,' or 'why?,' then it is an adverbial clause.

When Mary comes depends on the time of her flight.

Noun Clause (acting as a subject)

When Mary comes, we will start the party.

Adverbial Clause (acting as an adverb)


The main difference between noun clauses and relative or adverbial clauses is that relative clauses and adverbial clauses modify nouns and verbs respectively, while noun clauses replace nouns altogether.


'Noun clauses' are dependant clauses that do not form a meaningful sentence. They sit instead of a noun. These noun clauses can function as:

  • Appositives
  • Subject complements
  • Objects of the preposition
  • Indirect object
  • Direct object


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