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Grammatical Functions of English Noun Clauses

A noun clause is a dependent clause that consists of a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause and that performs a nominal function. Noun clauses perform nine grammatical functions in English grammar:

  1. Subject
  2. Subject complement
  3. Direct object
  4. Object complement
  5. Indirect object
  6. Prepositional complement
  7. Adjective phrase complement
  8. Noun phrase complement
  9. Appositive

Subjects

The first grammatical function that noun clauses perform is the subject. A subject is a word, phrase, or clause that performs the action of or acts upon the verb. For example, the following italicized noun clauses function as subjects:

  • Whoever ate my lunch is in big trouble.
  • How you will finish all your homework on time is beyond me.
  • That the museum cancelled the lecture disappoints me.
  • For you to not graduate from college now is such as shame.

Both finite and nonfinite noun clauses can function as subjects.

Subject Complements

The second grammatical function that noun phrases perform is the subject complement. A subject complement is a word, phrase, or clause that follows a copular, or linking, verb and describes the subject of a clause. The terms predicate nominative and predicate noun are also used for noun clauses that function as subject complements. For example, the following italicized noun clauses function as subject complements:

  • The truth was that the moving company lost all your furniture.
  • My question is whether you will sue the company for losses.
  • The first place winner will be whoever swims the farthest in an hour.
  • That noise is the baby whimpering in her crib.

Both finite and nonfinite noun clauses can function as subject complements.

Direct Objects

The third grammatical function that noun clauses perform is the direct object. A direct object is a word, phrase, or clause that follows a transitive verb and answers the question “who?” or “what?” receives the action of the verb. For example, the following italicized noun clauses function as direct objects:

  • The counselor has been wondering if she chose the right career.
  • Do you know when the train should arrive?
  • Our dog eats whatever we put in his bowl.
  • I would hate for you to get hurt.

Both finite and nonfinite noun clauses can function as direct objects.

Object Complements

The fourth grammatical function that noun clauses perform is the object complement. Object complements are defined as words, phrases, and clauses that directly follow and modify the direct object. For example, the following italicized noun clauses function as object complements:

  • Her grandfather considers his biggest mistake that he did not finish college.
  • The committee has announced the winner whoever wrote the essay on noun clauses.
  • You may call your husband whatever you wish.
  • The assessment committee announced the problem us refusing to try new procedures.

Although rare, both finite and nonfinite noun clauses can function as object complements although nonfinite noun clauses perform the function infrequently.

Indirect Objects

The fifth grammatical function that noun clauses perform is the indirect object. An indirect object is word, phrase, or clause that indicates to or for whom or what the action of a ditransitive verb is performed. For example, the following italicized noun clauses function as indirect objects:

  • The judge will give what you said some deliberation during her decision.
  • The group has given that most Americans do not support their cause little consideration.
  • My parents gave that my brother wants his own car much thought.
  • My classmates gave me singing the school song a gold star.

Although rare, both finite and nonfinite noun clauses can function as direct objects although nonfinite noun clauses again perform the function infrequently.

Prepositional Complements

The sixth grammatical function that noun clauses perform is the prepositional complement. A prepositional complement is a word, phrase, or clause that directly follows a preposition and completes the meaning of the prepositional phrase. For example, the following italicized noun clauses function as prepositional complements:

  • Some people believe in whatever organized religion tells them.
  • We have been waiting for whoever will pick us up from the party.
  • My husband did not think about that I wanted some nice jewelry for my birthday.
  • My dog is always begging for me to give him a treat.

Both finite and nonfinite noun clauses can function as prepositional complements.

Adjective Phrase Complements

The seventh grammatical function that noun clauses perform is the adjective phrase complement. An adjective phrase complement is a phrase or clause that completes the meaning of an adjective phrase. For example, the following italicized noun clauses function as adjective phrase complements:

  • I am pleased that you are studying noun clauses.
  • The toddler was surprised that throwing a tantrum did not get him his way.
  • My brother is angry that someone dented his new car.
  • I am sad that my husband is sick again.

Only finite that-noun clauses can function as adjective phrase complements. Noun clauses most often function as adjective phrase complements when the adjective phrase is performing the function of subject complement.

Noun Phrase Complement

The eighth grammatical function that noun clauses perform is the noun phrase complement. A noun phrase complement is a phrase or clause that completes the meaning of a noun phrase. For example, the following italicized noun clauses function as noun phrase complements:

  • The claim that the earth is flat was once considered true.
  • My problem is the fact that you are never on time for work.
  • Our hope that peace will be achieved is possible.
  • The supposition that men are smarter than women is untrue.

Only finite that-noun clauses can function as noun phrase complements.

Appositives

The ninth grammatical function that noun clauses perform is the appositive. An appositive is a word, phrase, or clause that modifies or explains another noun phrase. For example, the following italicized noun clauses function as appositives:

  • That man, whoever is he, tried to steal some library books.
  • The problem, that the storm knocked out power, is affecting the entire town.
  • Your question, whether you should wear the blue dress or pink one, is frivolous in the situation.
  • That terrible noise, my husband singing in the shower, annoys the neighbors every night.

Both finite and nonfinite noun clauses can function as appositives.

References

Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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