Grammar Quiz

Grammar Quiz

Noun Clause Definition and Function

What is a noun clause? Most people learning English know the types, uses, and forms of a noun. But they may not know the use of noun clauses. A noun clause is a type of subordinate clause that functions as a noun in a sentence. Noun clauses are not difficult to recognize once they are seen as a unit performing the same function as a noun. This article explains the definition and function of noun clauses with examples.
Noun Clause | The Function of Noun Clause with Examples

Definition of a Noun Clause

A group of words with their own subject and verb and function as a noun in a sentence is called a noun clause. A noun clause function or fill the same slot as a noun or pronoun in a sentence. It is a type of dependent clause; therefore, it usually begins with words such as who, why, where, etc., which is called subordinating word. The noun clause can be created by adding words to a noun or a pronoun that contains a subject and verb. For examples
Pronoun: I don’t know that.
Noun Clause: I don’t know that she was at home last night.
Pronoun: It was too difficult.
Noun Clause: The paper we attempted yesterday was too tricky.
Noun: We will give the money to David.
Noun Clause: We will give the money to whoever won the speech competition.

How Do You Begin a Noun Clause?

We begin a noun clause using an introductory word called a noun clause marker. We usually add these words to the front of a clause that can’t stand alone, i.e., an independent clause to create a subordinate noun clause.
The noun clause marker includes the words that, if, whether. Question words such as when, how, what, where, and why. Relative pronouns such as whom. Other words such as however, whoever, whatever, whoever, whenever, wherever, whichever.
We get a noun clause when we add any of these words to the front of an independent clause. Keep this formula for a noun clause in mind.
Introductory Word + Independent Clause = Noun Clause
For example, take this independent clause: the man was recognized by her.
We can add the introductory word ‘that’ to create a noun clause.
That the man was recognized by her.
the village was far away (add an introductory word that)
that the village was far away
Further Examples 
  • The child told us what he wanted.
  • I don’t know who that guy is.
  • Please tell me what I can do?
  • Do you know whose home this is?
  • We don’t know where he stayed.
  • He asked me when I would arrive.
The word if or whether is used to change the yes/no question to a noun clause.
  • Please call me if Ahmad is at home.
  • I don’t know whether he is at home or not.
  • Ask them whether they are coming.
Noun clauses can also be used without using an introductory word. The introductory word in the second sentence is omitted in the following pair of sentences.
  • I didn’t find a man whom I could give the money.
  • I didn’t find a man I could give the money.
  • The boy says that I am intelligent.
  • The boy says I am intelligent.

The Function of a Noun Clause

Ask yourself what a noun does in a sentence. A noun clause has the same function as a noun in a sentence. The following are five functions that a noun clause performs in a sentence.

Noun Clause as Subject

It has the same function in a sentence as a noun or pronoun. In the following sentence, the group of words written in bold are noun clauses and are the subject of their sentences.
Whoever needs to understand should bring his notebook.
(This sentence has two verbs “needs” and “should“, so we need two subjects. The subject of the dependent clause ‘Whoever needs to understand’ is whoever. And the subject for the verb should is the entire noun clause.)
  • When her dad returns are unknown.
  • What she did was unforgivable.
  • Whose book is on the table?
  • Where she lives is unknown to me.
  • Why he hates her is still unknown.
  • Whoever comes first is served first.
  • What the man said wasn’t true.

Noun Clause as Direct and Indirect Object

Objects follow most verbs in English sentences. The object of a verb can be one word or more than one word. The group of words that act as the object of a verb can be a phrase or a clause. Take the following example.
I don’t know her name.
(The two groups of words’ her name’ is a noun phrase and is the object of the verb know.)
I don’t know where she goes.
In this sentence, the group of words ‘where she goes’ functions as a noun and is the object of the verb know. Since it is not a single word but a group of words and has its own subject ‘she’ and the verb ‘goes.’ It is the noun clause and the object of the verb know.
Noun clauses can be the direct object of a verb in a sentence. Noun clauses that usually act as the object of a verb are usually introduced by the word ‘that.’
  • I think that he is a good man. 
(In this sentence, the entire group of words starting with the word that is the noun clause)
The underlined parts are noun clauses that act as the verb’s object in the independent clause in the following sentences.
  • I asked her how old she was.
  • We hope that she can win the competition.
  • She realizes that she should sleep early at night.
  • I didn’t see what they had done.
  • We didn’t realize that he was coming with us.
  • His sister told me that there was a cultural revolution in Europe.
  • You can adjust whom you like.
  • I don’t know what she is saying.
  • She eats whatever she likes.
  • Ask the teacher if she is at the office.
  • Tell us how you solve that.

Noun Clause as Object of a Preposition

Prepositions always take objects. The object to a preposition can be a single word or group of words. The following are examples of noun clauses that act as the object to prepositions.
  • The teacher talked about how she won the dance competition.
  • He spoke of what he felt.
  • You shouldn’t laugh at what people say.
  • It all depends on how it is done
  • The man agreed to what we proposed.
  • I believe in what they say.
  • You will be responsible for what you have done.

Noun Clause as Subject Complement

A noun clause can be the complement of a subject. A compliment is one or more than one word that completes or modifies the meaning of a subject.
  • The girl is what she saw.
  • My most outstanding achievement at university was when I became the class representative.
  • My best friend is whom I am living with these days.
  • Your real friend is who doesn’t leave you alone in danger.
  • It is clear that they are still unaware.

Noun Clause as Adjective Complement

We sometimes have complete sentences, but we need to add more information to clarify the idea expressed in those sentences. Let’s take an example of a complete sentence, but we need to add more information. 
Example 1
I am glad. 
This is a complete sentence and complete idea as well. But one may have many reasons to be happy. So, I need to clarify why I am happy. I can add a noun clause to complete the idea.
I am glad (that) you have decided to leave the job.
You have decided to leave the job is a noun clause that acts as an adjective complement that completes the idea expressed in the independent clause. 
Example 2
He isn’t sure.
(‘He isn’t sure is a complete sentence. But there may be several reasons why he isn’t sure. To complete the idea, we need to add adjective complement)
 He isn’t sure if his dad is ill.

Noun Clause as Object Complement

  • He made it what it is.
  • Have you got it what you had expected?
  • You can call me what you please.

How Do You identify a Noun Clause?

They always begin with the keywords listed above. A noun clause must begin with one of the words called noun clause marker. To identify a noun clause, first look in a sentence if any group of words begins with these words.
To test whether a group of words do the function of a noun or not is to replace them with the words something, somewhere, and someone
Examples 1
I didn’t understand something.
The word something functions as a noun in this sentence. We can replace this with a group of words with their own subject and verb. 
I didn’t understand why his face was twitching.
Does the group of words begin with a noun clause marker? Yes, it starts with ‘why.’
Does it have its own subject and verb? The answer is yes.
Does it function as a noun in this sentence? Yes, because it replaced the noun something in the above sentence. 
So, the group of words ‘why his face is twitching’ is a noun clause.
Example 2
The teacher despised whoever came late to the classroom.
We can replace the group of words’ whoever came late to the classroom’ with the noun someone.
The teacher despised someone.
The noun someone has the same function as the above group of words. So, it is a noun clause.
Example 3
A noun clause can also be identified by the who or what question in the given sentence. for example
What she completed yesterday was most important!
Ask what was most important. The answer to this question is the noun clause that she completed yesterday.

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