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5.5: Noun Clauses

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    Noun Clauses

    Noun Clauses are clauses containing at least a subject and a verb and function as a noun.  In other words, they look like a sentence, but they can’t stand alone and make sense.  (Clauses can not stand alone in formal grammar.)  They need an independent clause (a complete sentence) to make sense.  Noun clauses replace a noun in a sentence.  A noun clause can be used in every place that a noun can be used (except as the object of a preposition that uses a that clause).  Another name for a that clause is an embedded statement.  A noun clause beginning with a WH question word is called an interrogative noun clause.  Look at the sentences below, please.

    I know something.  This is a very simple sentence.  I is the subject; know is the verb; and something is the object.

    I know that my name is Donald R. Bissonnette.  This is basically the same sentence as the one above.  I is the subject; know is the verb; and that my name is Donald R. Bissonnette is the object. That my name is Donald R. Bissonnette is a noun clause.

    Something in the first sentence equals that my name is Donald R. Bissonnette in the second sentence.  That my name is Donald R. Bissonnette is called a that clause.  A that clause is a noun clause beginning with the word that.  Look at some other examples below, please.

    I understand that learning to speak English is difficult.

    That all of you want to learn English is easy for me to understand.

    I know that people love their children all over the world.

    That people love their children is true all over the world.

    My friend asked me how old I was.  I answered that I was 70 years old.

    1.  Some other verbs that can be commonly used with embedded statements are as follows:

    agree           doubt            hope             regret

           answer          dream           imagine         remember

           assume         feel               know             say

           believe          forget            learn             suppose

           conclude       guess            notice            think

           decide           hear             realize           understand  

    This is not a complete list.  There are many more verbs that can be used in this way.

    1.  Some other verbs follow a different pattern.  These verbs must first be followed by an object and then followed by a that clause.  Notice the sentences below, please.

    I told her that I would be home late.

    My students assured me that they would do their homework.

    I informed Jerry that I didn’t feel like going fishing on Saturday.

    The following verbs are commonly used in this pattern.

    assure             convince       inform

    notify              remind          tell

    1. Another different pattern that uses that clauses may (or may not) be followed by an object.

    I promised (my mother) that I would be a good boy.

    My friend wrote (me) that she would arrive in Seattle on September 22nd.

    The following verbs commonly use this pattern.

               promise         show             teach             warn             write

    1. A fourth pattern that uses that clauses concerns verbs that are followed by to + an object.  The infinitive comes directly after these verbs.

    He explained to his students that they would need to buy the handout in order to do their homework for his class.

    I mentioned to my wife that I would be home late due to a meeting.

    The mother announced to the family that they were going to Hawaii on vacation.

    The following verbs are commonly used in this pattern.

                   admit            announce      explain         mention         point out

                   prove            read             repeat           reply             report

                   say               suggest         write

    Many times people omit (don’t use) that word that in the that clause.  It is understood to be there by native speakers, however.  Also, when a that clause is used as a subject, it has the same meaning as IT and must have subject / verb agreement when necessary. 

    Exercise 18:  Read the statement and the subject and verb that follows it.  Then combine them into one sentence, please.  You may use or not use the word that in your answer.


    It rains a lot in Seattle.  I know -                       I know that it rains a lot in Seattle.
                                                                         I know it rains a lot in Seattle.

    Seattle is a very green city.  She agrees -          She agrees Seattle is a very green city.
                                                                        She agrees that Seattle is a very green city.

    1.  Seattle is the capital of Washington.  I don’t think -
    2. Olympia is the capital of Washington.  I know –
    3. About a million people live in the Seattle metropolitan area.      I have heard –
    4. Seattle is named after an Indian chief named Chief Sealth.  My teacher told me –
    5. Seattle used to have a major basketball team.  I believe –
    6. The team was called the Seattle (Super) Sonics.  My friend said –
    7. The team left town a number of years ago.  I understand –
    8. Seattle has on average 265 growing days for gardens.  My teacher informed us –
    9. 2010 was a very poor gardening year in Seattle.  My teacher reported –
    10. Mt. Rainier is one of the biggest mountains in America.  I guess –
    11. Children must look both ways when crossing streets.  The mother warned –
    12. Streets are very slippery when wet.  My friend said –
    13. He had to do homework last night.  The student forgot –
    14. Drinking alcohol and driving a car is very dangerous.  I realize –
    15. There is often a speed trap on Aurora Avenue in the morning.  The teacher announced -

    Exercise 19:  Answer the following questions using an embedded statement with the verb provided, please.


    Which is bigger, an elephant or a mouse?  Know -
    I know that an elephant is bigger than a mouse.

    Who was the president of the United States in 2010, Barak Obama or George Bush?  Believe -
    I believe that Barak Obama was the president of the United States in 2010.

    Will we have school on Fridays?  Notify –
    Our teacher notified us that we would not have school on Fridays.

    1. Is New York City bigger than Seattle?  Think –
    2. Is Seattle bigger than Olympia?  Guess –
    3. Is Seattle a major shipping port in America?  Understand –
    4. Is Seattle a good place to have a garden?  Learned –
    5. Will you go on vacation to Hawaii some day?  Hope –
    6. Are there whales in the waters around Seattle?  Assume –
    7. Does learning to speak English take a lot of time?  Realize –
    8. Will you have homework this weekend?  Assume –
    9. Do your classmates want to get high paying jobs?  Suppose –
    10. Must you skip lines when doing homework in my class?  I remind –
    11. Will you need to study noun clauses in order to use them correctly?  Conclude -
    12. Do teachers have to report your attendance at the end of this quarter?  Imagine –
    13. Is this a long assignment?  Notice –
    14. Does everyone in America speak English?  Realize –
    15. Which is more expensive, a new house or a new car?  Assume –

    Exercise 20:  Complete the following sentences, please.


    That my teacher has a long beard -----
    That my teacher has a long beard is true.

    That guns are dangerous ------
    That guns are dangerous is not difficult to understand.

    That my sons graduated from college ------
    That my sons graduated from college makes me happy.

    That some parents don’t value education ------
    That some parents don’t value education causes their children not to study hard in school.

    1. That people want their children to be healthy ------
    2. That rainy weather makes people sad ------
    3. That some people are afraid of snakes ------
    4. That police have speed traps on some streets ------
    5. That eating vegetables is good for people’s health ------
    6. That some children have hard lives ------
    7. That loving someone is better than hating someone ------
    8. That learning to speak English will help you in the long run ------
    9. That getting enough sleep is important for children ------
    10. That this is the last sentence in this exercise ------


    Embedded Questions (also known as Interrogative Noun Clauses):

    Embedded questions are noun clauses that begin with a question word, but they ARE NOT questions.  Therefore, they do not have a question form.  They begin with a question word, but they have a statement form.  As noun clauses, they can be used everyplace that a noun can be used, including as objects of prepositions.  Please look at the grammar explanation and sentences below.  First, I will show the embedded questions as objects of the sentences; then I will show embedded questions as subjects of sentences; and finally, I will show embedded questions as objects of prepositions.

    Embedded Questions as Objects of a Sentence:

    I know something. 

    I know that Barak Obama was the president of the United States in 2015.

           That Barak Obama was the president of the United States in 2015 is the object of the sentence.

    I know who the president of the United States is.

           Who the president of the United States is is the object of the sentence.

    I know something.

    My friend Roger teaches ENGL 105.

    I know what my friend Roger teaches.

           What my friend Roger teaches is the object of the sentence.  

    Notice how both that clauses and embedded questions both work in the same way.

    I know that my friend Roger teaches ENGL 105.

    I know who teaches ENGL 105.           Who = Roger

           Who teaches ENGL 105 is the object of the sentence

    I know what my friend Roger teaches.  What = ENGL 105

           What my friend Roger teaches is the object of the sentences.


    Embedded Questions as Subjects of a Sentence:

    I come from Massachusetts.

    Where I come from is Massachusetts.


    I wake up at 6:00 AM during school days.

    What time I wake up during school days is 6:00 AM.


    I am Donald R. Bissonnette.

    Who I am is Donald R. Bissonnette.


    I have two sons.

    How many sons I have is two.


    My car is a 1999 Ford Taurus.

    What make my car is is a 1999 Ford Taurus.


    You come to class in order to learn English.

    Why you come to class is to learn English.


    I went to university in Massachusetts.

    Where I went to university was in Massachusetts.


    Notice that none of these sentences is a question.  There are no question marks after the sentences.  Also notice that there are two verbs that come together when making embedded questions the subject of the sentence.  This can be very confusing when writing for both native and non-native writers in English.

    Embedded Questions as Objects of a Preposition:

    I am interested in something.

    I am interested in what language she speaks at home.


    I know that he was talking about his girlfriend.

    I know about whom he was talking.


    I found out that he got the book from the library.

    I found out where he got the book from.  I found out from where he got the book.


    The wedding bells tolled for the newly married couple.

    I know for whom the bells tolled.


    He got home at 2:00 AM.

    I realize at what time he got home.


    She put the boxes under her own bed.

    I know under which bed she put the boxes.  I know which bed she put the boxes under.


    He held the candy over his daughter’s head.

    I saw over whose head he held the candy.


    She fell off her bike into a mud puddle.

    I know what she fell off and into.
    I know off what she fell and into what she fell.


    Replacing Subjects versus Replacing Objects: A Confusing Problem of Word Order

    The word order you use changes depending upon whether you want to replace a subject or an object with an embedded question.  If you wish to replace a subject, then the word order remains the same: only replace the Question Word.  However, if you wish to replace an object, then the word order changes.  Note the examples below, please.

    The teacher is teaching the student.      Teacher is the subject; the students is the object.
    I know (that) the teacher is teaching the students.
    I know who is teaching the students.            Who = the teacher (the subject)
    I know whom the teacher is teaching.           Whom = the students (the objects)

    The students can see the teacher.       The students is the subject; the teacher is the object.
    I know (that) the students can see the teacher.
    I know who can see the teacher.           Who = the students
    I know whom the teacher can see.        Whom = the teacher

    The boy is holding his puppy.        The boy is the subject; the puppy is the object.
    I know (that) the boy is holding his puppy
    I know who is holding his puppy.               Who = the boy
    I know what the boy is holding.                 What = the puppy

    We went into the forest.                 We is the subject; into the forest is a place.
    I know (that) we went into the forest.
    I know who went into the forest.           Who = we
    I know where we went.                        Where = into the forest

    He paid $400 for the sofa.       He is the subject; $400 is the object.
    I know he paid $400 for the sofa.
    I know who paid $400 for the sofa.              Who = he
    I know how much he paid for the sofa.         How much = $400

    The dog put the bone under the porch.  The dog is the subject; the bone is the onject.
    I know the dog put the bone under the porch.
    I know what put the bone under the porch.   What = the dog
    I know what the dog put under the porch.     What = the bone
    I know where the dog put the bone.             Where = under the porch


    I know that this is very confusing.  I know what is very confusing.  I know who is confused.

    Exercise 21:  (Be Careful.) Change the following statement to simple questions, please.  Do not forget that the word order of the embedded question does not change.


    I know where the money is buried.              Do I know where the money is buried?

    He wanted to know what time it was.           Did he want to know what time it was?

    He has learned how to drive a car.               Has he learned how to drive a car?


    1.  He assumed that she was telling the truth.
    2. He forgot what he told her.
    3. She wishes that he would stay home at night.
    4. Boys know how to play sports.
    5. My son remembers who gave him the knife.
    6. My wife is talking to the woman who was in her class.
    7. I know what time it is.
    8. She has forgotten where she put the pliers.
    9. He forgot how much he had paid for the drill press.
    10. I had to explain where Ballard was.
    11. My wife wants to know how far away Bellingham is.
    12. He wonders how long it will take.
    13. I can imagine why she wants to go there.
    14. The police assumed that the boy stole the keys and knife.
    15. His mother repeated where he had to go.
    16. She has to know where he is.
    17. He promised that he would be back on time.

    Exercise 22:  Answer the following questions with the words given, please.


    Who is your teacher?  I don’t remember –
    I don’t remember who my teacher is.

    When is her birthday?   I don’t know –
    I don’t know when her birthday is.

    Where was he?  He didn’t say –
    He didn’t say where he was.

    Whose car was he driving?  Do you remember -
    Do you remember whose car he was driving?

    1.  Which book did he want you to buy for his father?  I can’t remember –
    2. Why weren’t your friends at home studying?  They didn’t tell me –
    3. Who drank Dad’s coffee?  I don’t know –
    4. How tall is the Space Needle?  I can only guess –
    5. What did he find?  Did he tell you –
    6. How many students are there in your English class?  I know –
    7. What did your brother cook for his girlfriend?  Do you know –
    8. Which shirt should I wear to the party?  I don’t care –
    9. Where can I buy some good shoes?  Can you suggest –
    10. What did your friend want?  I am not sure –
    11. What is the population of the United States?  I don’t remember –
    12. Where is the closest gas station?  I wonder -
    13. Who will you marry?  I don’t know –
    14. How much did his new car cost?  He didn’t say –
    15. How much did she pay for this new set of dishes?  Guess –

    Exercise 23:  Answer the following questions with “I don’t know” and an embedded question, please.


    How old is your mother?                 I don’t know how old she is.

    Is he from Seattle or Tacoma?         I don’t know where he is from.

    Is his car red or black?                   I don’t know what color his car is.

    1. Is he 24 or 25 years old?
    2. Will your friend come tomorrow or next week?
    3. Was your friend’s appointment at 3:00 o’clock or 4:00 o’clock?
    4. Is the cost of bus fare $2.25 or $2.50?
    5. When is the last day of class this quarter?
    6. Who shot President Kennedy?
    7. Did your family go to the Seattle Center or to downtown Seattle?
    8. Is Veterans’ Day on Wednesday or Thursday this year?
    9. Did my wife buy a red dress or a blue dress?
    10. Did my friend come to Seattle by train or by bus?

    Another use of embedded clauses involves using “if clauses” when you don’t know if the answer is “yes” or “no.”  For example, if I ask you, “Is my wife 55 years old,” do you know that answer?  No, you don’t.  Possible answers to that question could be any one of the following:

    I don’t know if she is 55 years old.
    I am not sure if she is 55 years old.
    I wonder if she is 55 years old.
    I don’t know, so you need to tell me if she is 55 years old.
    How am I supposed to know if she is 55 years old?
    I don’t know whether or not she is 55 years old.

    All of these answers use the word “if” because the person doesn’t know the answer to the question.  Sometimes people use the word “whether” to indicate that they don’t know an answer.

    Exercise 24:  Answer the following questions using the prompt and with either “if” or “whether,” please.


    Is John at work?  I wonder -                           I wonder if John is at work.
    Has he already left home?  I’ll ask -                 I’ll ask if he has already left home.
    Does his tooth still hurt him?  Do you know-     Do you know whether his tooth still hurts him?

    1. Is her appointment at 3:00 or 4:00?  She doesn’t remember –
    2. Was he late for work?  I’ll find out –
    3. Will your friends go to the party?  I’m not sure –
    4. Have the police caught the bank robbers?  I haven’t heard -
    5. Does she eat fish?  I’ll ask-
    6. Has the mail already come?  I’ll check and see-
    7. Has our neighbor cleaned up his yard yet?  I’ll go look and see –
    8. Are you going out with your friends tonight?  I am not sure-
    9. Will it rain tomorrow?  Do you know –
    10. Was he speeding when the accident happened?  I’ll ask him –

    In Book Four is a list of Passive Adjective Expressions.  These expressions are passive in nature, which means they are formed with the verb To Be.  They are then followed by an adjective and a preposition.  Many times after these expressions, people use an embedded question following the preposition.  Note the examples below.

    I am interested in what she has to say.

    He was concerned about who his son was hanging around with.

    My friend will be mad at his brother for what he said to their mother

    He is good at whatever sport he plays.

    They were warned about which neighborhoods they should avoid in the city.

    The children are excited about where they will go during their next vacation.

    Exercise 25: Use the following passive adjective expressions along with an interrogative noun clauses to make good sentences, please.  Use the verb To Be in all these sentences.

    Example: I am ashamed of what my son said to my wife at the party on Saturday.

    1.  interested in


    2.  concerned about


    3.  accustomed to


    4.  worried about


    5.  good at


    6.  grateful to someone for


    7.  uncertain about


    8.  aware of


    9.  careless with


    10.  careful about


    11.  afraid of


    12.  excited about

    5.5: Noun Clauses is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Don Bissonnette.

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