Most people are comfortable with the idea of nouns, but they might not feel so confident when it comes to the idea of a noun clause. A noun clause is a group of words (doing the work of a noun) with a subject and a verb, that can be a subject, object, or object of a preposition in a sentence. Seeing examples of each form is the best way to understand the concept of noun clauses.
Noun clauses can be used to name something when a single word isn't enough. It's also important to remember that these clauses are dependent clauses. A dependent clause is one that cannot stand by itself. If a dependent clause is placed alone, it forms a fragment, not a full sentence. An independent clause can act as a sentence by itself, but dependent clauses cannot.
Noun clauses commonly begin with words such as how, that, what, whatever, when, where, whether, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, and why.
A noun clause can act as the subject of a verb, and we will break down what that means after some examples:
When there's a verb in the sentence, you must find the subject. Therefore, in the first sentence we can ask "What made?" and the answer is "What Alicia said." Therefore, "What Alicia said" is the subject of the verb "made." In the next case, we can ask "What surprised?" and the answer is "What Megan wrote." Do you now see how a noun clause can act as a subject of a verb?
In the same vein, noun clauses can also act as the direct object of a verb:
Once again, we can use the method of questioning to demonstrate how the noun clause is being used. What didn't she realize? What didn't he know? And what do they now understand? The answer in all three cases is the noun clause!
Let's pick up the pace a little and see if you can figure out how these noun clauses work as a subject complement (refering back to modify, describe, or complete the subject of the clause):
Once again, do you see what questions these noun clauses answer and how they relate to the subject? What was Carlie's problem? What was Harry's crowning achievement? What was Darla's excuse? Without these clauses, the sentences would not be complete thoughts grammatically, nor would they sound complete at all.
Noun clauses also act as objects of a preposition.
Once again, Harry is not the provider of what? Josephine is not responsible for what? Allie is the owner of what?
Last but not least, a noun clause can also act as an adjective complement, modifying a verb, adjective, or adverb.
One more time, ask the questions: Why was the family happy? Why is the child sad? Why am I excited?
Using noun clauses in everyday speech is common, as noun clauses often add crucial information to sentences. Remember that noun clauses contain a subject and a verb, are dependent clauses, function as a noun in the sentence, and generally begin with words like that or what. Learning to differentiate between the various types will take time and practice.
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