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 and like all clauses, has a subject and a verb. These clauses are always dependent clauses; that is, they do not form a complete sentence.

Noun Clause: Types

Noun clauses can be generally categorized into two types based on their grammatical structure:

  1. Finite noun clauses
  2. Non-finite noun clauses

Finite Noun Clauses

A finite clause contains a verb that is conjugated for tense and agrees with the subject in terms of person and number. Two types of finite clauses can function as nouns within sentences:

Nominal Relative Clauses

Nominal relative clauses are introduced by relative pronouns (what, which, who, whom, when, where, who, how) or indefinite relative pronouns (whatever, whichever, whenever, wherever, whoever, whomever) and function as a noun within the sentence. For example:

What he did was incredible.

Here, 'what he did' is a nominal relative clause that acts as a noun (subject) in the sentence.

I don't know where she lives.

Here, 'where she lives' is a nominal relative clause that acts as a noun (object) in the sentence.

Whoever stole the cookies is guilty.

I'll have whatever you're having.

Content Clauses

Content clauses are finite clauses introduced by conjunctions such as 'that', 'if', 'whether', 'when', or 'how' that function as nouns in the sentence. They provide information or convey ideas that function as a single unit within a sentence and can express thoughts, beliefs, opinions, facts, or questions. Here are some examples:

That he was late surprised everyone.

That-clause as subject of sentence

I believe that she will come.

That-clause as object of sentence

Whether he will come is uncertain.

We are investigating whether the experiment was conducted properly.

I'm not sure if I can make it to the party tonight.

Non-finite Clauses

Non-finite clauses, in which the verb is not conjugated for tense or person, can also function as nouns within sentences and act as subject, direct object, complement, etc. Two main types of non-finite clauses can act as noun clauses:

Infinitive Clauses

Infinitives are non-finite verb forms typically used to express actions or states without specifying a subject or tense. There are two types of infinitives in English:

Both 'to-infinitive' and bare infinitive clauses can function as nouns in the sentence. However, while 'to-infinitive' clauses can appear in both subject and object positions, bare infinitive clauses cannot serve as subjects. Take a look at the examples:

To dance is her passion.

She wants to visit Paris.

He helped me cross the river.

Present Participle Clauses

Present participle clauses can function as noun clauses within a sentence, and they can serve various roles such as subjects, objects, complements, and appositives. Here are some examples:

Reading books is her favorite pastime.

Present participle clause as subject of sentence

He likes swimming in the ocean.

Present participle clause as direct object of verb

He is interested in learning new languages.

Present participle as object of preposition

Her favorite activity is playing the piano.

Present participle clause as subject complement

His hobby, collecting stamps, is quite unique.

Present participle clause as appositive

Warning!

While non-finite clauses can functional as nouns, they are not always noun clause and can also act as adverbs. For example:

Talking to himself, he walked out the door.

Here, 'talking' to himself' is a present participle non-finite clause that acts as an adverb and not a noun.

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.

Tip!

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.

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 Object Complements

Noun clauses can act as object complement by providing additional information or describing the direct object in more detail. For example:

I know him to be an honest man.

'to be an honest man' is an infinitive clause acting as complement of the object 'him'.

They would name their dog whatever the children suggested.

'whatever the children suggested' is a nominal relative clause acting as complement of the object 'their dog'

Noun Clauses as Adjective Complement

Noun clauses can be used as adjective complements, providing additional information or description about the state or condition expressed by the adjective. They specify the reason, cause, or basis for the adjective's quality. Here are some examples:

She was relieved that the storm had passed.

'that the storm has passed' is a content clause acting as complement of the adjective 'relieved'

I am happy to see you here.

Noun Clauses as Noun Complement

A noun clause can function as a noun complement by providing additional information or clarification about a noun in a sentence. Here are examples of sentences with a noun clause as a noun complement:

The thought that he would be all on his own broke his heart.

Here, 'that he would be all on his own' provides information about the noun 'the thought'

The fact that he lied disappoints me.

Noun Clauses as Appositives

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

His belief, that honesty is the best policy, guides his actions.

His dream, to become a famous musician, motivates his practice.

Review

'Noun clauses' are finite or non-finite dependent clauses that do not form a meaningful sentence. They sit instead of a noun. These noun clauses can function as:

  • Subject
  • Direct object
  • Indirect object
  • Objects of the preposition
  • Subject complements
  • Object complement
  • Adjective complement
  • Noun complement
  • Appositives

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