What Are Noun Clauses?


Many people don't realize that noun clauses are an important part of English grammar -- including the noun clause in this sentence! Grammar can be confusing, especially when words are replaced with phrases in a sentence. However, once you understand what noun clauses are and how they are used in sentences, they can become a helpful grammatical tool.

Identifying Noun Clauses

  • Noun clauses can be tricky to identify in sentences. They can be prefaced or followed with a number of introductory words, such as "whom," "what" or "who," or by forms of "-ever," such as "whoever" or "however." The easiest way to determine if a phrase is a noun clause is to replace it with "something" or "someone" in the sentence. If the sentence still makes sense grammatically, the phrase is likely a noun clause.

Clauses as Direct Objects

  • When noun clauses are used in place of a direct object, they replace "something" in a sentence. For example, in the sentence "He couldn't decide what to have for dinner," the noun clause "what to have for dinner" is the direct object. You can reword the sentence as "He couldn't' decide something," which confirms the noun clause.

Clauses as Subjects

  • Sometimes a noun clause acts as the subject of a sentence. In the example "I don't know what you mean," the noun clause "what you mean" is the subject of the sentence. Another example is the sentence, "What she said was upsetting," with the noun clause "what she said" acting as the sentence subject.

Clauses as Objects of a Preposition

  • A noun clause can also act as the object of a preposition in a sentence. These noun clauses will always be preceded with or followed by a preposition, such as "on," "to," "for," "throughout," "without" or "with." For example, in the sentence "The movie was about why soda is unhealthy," the noun clause is "why soda is unhealthy" because it can be replaced with "something" and because it follows the preposition "about."

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