PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Advanced English Grammar for ESL Learners (2011)
15 Noun clauses
In this chapter we will examine three aspects of noun clauses: (1) where noun clauses can be used, (2) the structure of that noun clauses, and (3) the structure of wh- noun clauses.
Where noun clauses can be used
Noun clauses are dependent clauses that function as abstract nouns. The two most important types of noun clauses are that clauses and wh- clauses. The noun clauses take their names from the first word that begins the clause. Thatclauses, obviously, begin with that. Wh- clauses are so called because nearly all the first words begin with the letters wh-. For example : who, what, which, when, where, and why. (Strangely enough, there is no standard name in traditional grammar for the wh- words that begin noun clauses, possibly because wh- words are a mixture of pronouns, e.g., who, and adverbs, e.g., where.)
Here are some examples of that and wh- clauses playing the main noun roles:
As the above examples show, we can generally use that clauses and wh- clauses interchangeably. That is, where we can use one type of noun clause, we expect to be able to use the other types. The one main exception is noun clauses used as objects of prepositions— here only wh- clauses can be used.
As we saw in the chapters on gerunds and infinitives, the basic rule is that noun clauses can be used only where we can also use abstract nouns. Abstract nouns refer to intangible concepts—as opposed to animate and concrete nouns that refer to living things and objects, respectively. Some useful abstract nouns are effort, plan, success, idea, cost, problem, and outcome. It is a good bet that wherever you can use one or more of these abstract nouns, you can also use noun clauses. For example, see how all the noun clauses above are used in places where abstract nouns could also be used:
Each of the following sentences has a blank space where a noun belongs. Use the test abstract nouns effort, plan, success, idea, cost, problem, or outcome to determine whether or not noun clauses could be used in that space. If the abstract nouns do not make sense, write “no noun clause.” If they do make sense, write in one of the test abstract nouns and confirm your answer by writing both a that clause and a wh- clause in the space provided. (After prepositions, you can only use wh-noun clauses.) The first question is done as an example.
The problem came as a shock to me.
That the test was today came as a shock to me.
What it would cost came as a shock to me.
1. The test results confirmed __________________.
2. Everybody was surprised by __________________.
3. Our friends told us __________________.
4. The proposal attracted __________________.
5. The funny thing was __________________.
6. We were all very worried about __________________.
7. The angry crowd attacked __________________.
8. __________________ struck all of us as odd.
9. We need to talk about __________________.
10. __________________ stepped briskly onto the stage.
There is one additional place where that clauses can be used: as the complements of certain predicate adjectives. For example:
I am happy that things worked out for you.
The kids were upset that we had to cancel the picnic.
I am certain that it will be OK.
What makes these particular that clauses so unusual is that they do not play a noun role. We cannot replace them with it, as we would expect:
There are two groups of predicate adjectives that permit that clauses. By far the largest group are predicate adjectives that describe an attitude or state of mind. For example : amused, aware, grateful, surprised, worried. A much smaller group are predicate adjectives that express certainty. For example : confident, convinced, sure.
The following sentences all contain that clauses used as adjective complements. However, some of the adjective complements have been incorrectly used with predicate adjectives that do not accept that clause complements. Underline each that clause and then label the that clause as “grammatical” or “ungrammatical.” The first question is done as an example.
The company was unfair that so many people were laid off.
1. John is always sure that he is right.
2. I am not happy that things turned out the way they did.
3. We are ready that it is time to go.
4. The waiter was positive that I had ordered the seafood special.
5. The coach was disappointed that the team had made so many mistakes.
6. I am aware that we made a commitment to them.
7. The senator was irritated that the reporter had asked such difficult questions.
8. Frankly, he is still convinced that he did the right thing.
9. The recommendation was vague that the project was going to be approved.
10. He was really hurt that so few people turned up for his retirement party.
That clauses (unlike wh- clauses) are built in a very simple manner. The introductory word that is followed by a statement in normal sentence word order:
That clause = that + statement
The simplicity of that clauses means that nonnative speakers have relatively few problems with them. Our discussion will focus on two unusual aspects of that clauses that do cause problems: deleted that and transposed or shifted that causes.
When that clauses are the objects of verbs or the complements of predicate adjectives, that is often deleted. (In fact, in conversation that is deleted about 75 percent of the time.) For example:
Object of linking verbs
that we will hear from them soon.
that they would give us a call tonight.
I sure wish
that it would stop raining.
Complement of predicate adjectives
We are all happy
that you are here.
He is convinced
that the other driver caused the accident.
I am quite aware
that there is a problem.
Deleting the introductory that from the beginning of that clauses poses a special problem for nonnative speakers because the introductory that is the key signal that marks the beginning of a that clause. When this flag word is deleted, it is much more difficult to recognize the presence of a that clause.
Underline the that clauses in the following sentences. Confirm your answer by inserting the missing that. The first question is done as an example.
Everyone knew they would have to extend the deadline they initially set.
Everyone knew that they would have to extend the deadline they initially set.
1. Just pretend you didn’t hear what they said.
2. We were worried you didn’t get our phone message.
3. I guess you were right after all.
4. I’m not sure we can aff ord to do it.
5. We all realize the economy is struggling.
6. His parents were grateful he wasn’t seriously injured in the accident.
7. You should forget I said anything about it.
8. We insist you all stay for dinner.
9. Everyone is pleased things turned out the way they did in the end.
10. I’m sure they would deny they ever made a mistake.
Transposed or shifted that clauses
English speakers are uncomfortable with long or complicated that clauses playing the role of subject. In fact 80 percent of the time, subject that clauses are transposed or shifted to the end of the sentence. An “empty” or “dummy” itis used as a place holder in the now vacated subject position. Here are some examples, first with the that clause in its original subject position and then with the that clause in its shifted position:
If the main verb in the sentence is a linking verb followed by a predicate adjective that expresses certainty or makes a value statement, then we shift the subject that clause nearly 100 percent of the time. For example:
Underline subject that clauses in the following sentences, then shift the subject that clauses to the end of the sentence and replace the subject with it. The first question is done as an example.
That tuition costs have risen so much is shocking.
It is shocking that tuition costs have risen so much.
1. That George was going to quit didn’t surprise anyone.
2. That humans originated in Africa is now generally accepted.
3. That Alice and Frank broke up came as a big shock to all their friends.
4. That parents understand how to correctly install infant car seats is essential.
5. That I did so well on the project really helped my final grade.
6. That our costs were getting out of control became increasingly evident.
7. That he takes such big chances is not OK.
8. That my driver’s license had expired completely escaped my attention.
9. That they would get upset about it is quite understandable.
10. That texting while you are driving is really dangerous is common knowledge.
Wh- clauses are noun clauses that begin with wh- words. There are two types of wh- words: pronouns and adverbs. Most of the wh- words also have a compound form ending in -ever. Here is the complete list.
The internal structure of wh- clauses is complex. This complexity leads to mistakes because the more complex a grammatical structure is, the more difficult it is for us to monitor that structure for correctness. All noun clauses are difficult because they are abstract sentences embedded as nouns inside another sentence. Wh- clauses are especially difficult because wh- clauses are formed by a movement rule that shift s the wh- word from its normal position to the beginning of the wh- clause. This rule is doubly complicated because the movement rule is conditional. That is, under certain conditions the wh- word moves and under other conditions it does not move. Most errors involving wh- clauses are a direct consequence of the complexities of moving the wh- word.
In this discussion we will initially focus on two areas where wh- word movement is most likely to cause problems for nonnative speakers (and not a few native speakers as well): who or whom, and using question word order in wh- noun clauses. Finally, we will look at an odd kind of reduced wh- noun clauses: wh- infinitive phrases.
Who or whom?
Who and whom are unique among the wh- words in that they have different forms depending on their grammatical role: who is used for subjects, and whom is used for objects of verbs and objects of prepositions. In discussing whoand whom, we must be careful to distinguish between the role of who and whom INSIDE the wh- clause and the role the entire wh- clause plays in the main sentence. To see the problem, ask yourself which of the following sentences is correct—should it be (1) whoever or (2) whomever?
1. We will be glad to talk to whoever shows up at the meeting.
2. We will be glad to talk to whomever shows up at the meeting.
The answer is (1) whoever. To understand why, we need to think of the wh- clause as an island cut off from the rest of the main sentence. On the island, whoever is the subject of the verb shows up. This subject-verb relationship has nothing to do with anything outside the island. In the main sentence, the verb is talk to. The object of the verb talk to is the ENTIRE wh- noun clause whoever shows up at the meeting. In other words, the entire noun clause is a single unit, an island, and this entire island is the object of the main verb, not some particular noun inside the island. The verb talk to cannot get onto the island to single out whomever to be its object.
A good way to decide between who and whom is to put parentheses around the wh- clause to remind ourselves that it is an island. Looking only inside the island, ask yourself whether the wh- word is or is not the subject of the verb inside the island. If it is the subject, the wh- word has to be the subject form who or whoever. If it is not the subject, the wh- word has be to the object form whom or whomever.
Here is an example of this technique:
Did you find out who/whom they wanted to talk to?
The first step is to put parentheses around the wh- noun clause:
Did you find out (who/whom they wanted to talk to)?
Then find out whether or not the wh- word is the subject of the verb inside the parentheses. In our example, clearly the wh- word is not the subject because the pronoun they is. There-fore, we must use whom rather than who. Note that this test does not need to discover what role the wh- word actually plays. All we are interested in is the simple question of whether or not the wh- word is the subject. The answer to that question tells us all we need to know to decide between who and whom.
Put parentheses around the entire wh - clause. Underline the subject of the verb in parentheses. Then cross out the incorrect wh - word. The first question is done as an example.
I asked (
who/whom he would pick for the job).
1. Did the reporters ever find out who/whom the police arrested?
2. We will help whoever/whomever asks for help.
3. She asked him who/whom he had seen at the reception.
4. I will play whoever/whomever wins the game this afternoon.
5. If I were you I wouldn’t care much about who/whom she dated in high school.
6. Whoever/whomever the bride picks will cater the wedding reception.
7. You will have to be whoever/whomever the director casts you as.
8. I just realized who/whom that man was talking about.
9. Whoever/whomever they pick for the job is going to have to do a lot of traveling.
10. They always reserve some seats for whoever/whomever comes into the session late.
Using wh- question word order in wh- noun clauses
By far the most common error that nonnative speakers make (both beginners and advanced students) is that they use the inverted verb word order of wh- questions (also called information questions) in wh- noun clauses. Here are some examples:
As you can see, the difference between wh- questions and wh- noun clauses in the above examples is that the verb in the wh- questions has been moved in front of the subject of the question. In the wh- noun clauses, the verb must stay in its normal position following the subject. The simplest way to monitor wh- noun clauses is to be sure that the verb FOLLOWS the subject. For example, which of the two wh- noun clauses below is wrong and which is correct?
1. I asked them what was the problem.
2. I asked them what the problem was.
Let’s look at the word order of the subjects and verbs:
Example (1) is incorrect because the verb is in front of the subject. Example (2) is correct because the verb follows the subject.
Put parentheses around the wh- noun clauses in the following sentences. Underline and label the subjects and verbs in the wh-noun clauses. If the word order is correct, write “correct.” If the word order is wrong, write “incorrect” and make the necessary corrections. The first question is done as an example.
We all wondered (where was the pizza we had ordered). Incorrect (where the pizza we had ordered was)
1. How should we pay for it was the big question.
2. They wondered where could they find an ATM.
3. Do you know why is it so hot in here?
4. Just listen to what are you saying!
5. The newspapers all reported what Senator Blather said.
6. The judge told the jury what could they consider as evidence.
7. How had they behaved off ended everyone there.
8. When was the data collected could make a big difference.
9. I couldn’t imagine whom was he talking about.
10. Could you figure out what was he saying?
Wh- infinitive phrases
Infinitive phrases are derived from complete sentences. (See Chapter 14, “infinitives,” for details.) Wh- infinitives differ from normal infinitives because wh- infinitives are derived from wh- noun clauses rather than free-standing complete sentences. To see the relationship of wh- noun clauses and wh- infinitives, compare the following:
As you can see, the wh- infinitive differs from its underlying wh- clause in two ways: the subject of the wh- clause has been deleted and the tensed verb should go has been changed to the infinitive to go. Here are some more examples of wh- noun clauses and their corresponding wh- infinitives playing all the main noun roles:
Underline the wh- noun clauses in the following sentences. Rewrite the wh- noun clause as a wh-infinitive. The first question is done as an example.
I was really worried about what I should say to her.
I was really worried about what to say to her.
1. Her father showed him how he could replace the window.
2. I found out where I could get really good pizza.
3. Where we should go on vacation became a topic for heated debate.
4. They worried about how much they should charge per hour.
5. The committee’s main concern was whom they should nominate.
6. The new guidelines spell out what you should do in an emergency.
7. It is hard to know what one should expect with a group of teenagers.
8. There were divided opinions on what we should do.
9. You must choose whom you want to believe.
10. When we should schedule the conference depends completely on people’s schedules.