A daunting question about the usage of noun clauses and relative clauses (3)


Last week, we discussed the first five of the eight functions that noun clauses can perform in a sentence, namely (1) as subject, (2) as subject complement, (3) as direct object, (4) as object complement, and (5) as indirect object. This time we’ll take up the remaining three functions: (6) as prepositional complement, (7) as adjective phrase complement, and (8) as noun phrase complement.

6. Noun clause as prepositional complement that directly follows a preposition and completes the meaning of a prepositional phrase:

(a) Finite noun clause as prepositional complement: “What”-clause: “The task force is deliberating on what action program to pursue next.”

(b) Nonfinite noun clause as prepositional complement: Gerund clause: “Our neighbor berated us for partying noisily till the wee hours of the morning.”

7. Noun clause as adjective phrase complement that completes the meaning of an adjective modifying the subject of the main clause:

(a) Finite noun clause as adjective phrase complement: “That”-clause: “The country’s Olympics contingent in Rio is euphoric that its female weightlifting bet won a silver medal.”

(b) Nonfinite noun clauses don’t function as adjective phrase complement, so no example is given here.

8. Noun clause as noun phrase complement that completes the meaning of a noun: Only finite noun clauses that begin with “that” can function as a noun phrase complement. Example: “The new administration’s goal that online gambling be outlawed turns out to be easily achievable.”

We are now done with our review of the kinds and functions of noun clauses, so let’s proceed to a discussion of relative clauses.

Recall that by definition, a relative clause is one that’s introduced in a sentence by the relative pronouns “who,” “which,” “that,” “whom,” “whoever,” “whomever,” “whatever,” or “whichever.” This kind of clause serves to relate a dependent or subordinate clause to an antecedent noun, which can either be the subject or object of that dependent clause. Together, the relative pronoun and the dependent clause introduced by it constitute the relative clause.

Relative clauses are two types: the defining or restrictive relative clause, and the nondefining or nonrestrictive relative clause.

The defining or restrictive relative clause is the type introduced by the relative pronoun “who” in the case of persons, and by the relative pronoun “that” in the case of things and ideas, as in these examples:

1. Relative clause introduced by “who:” “Students who conscientiously study their lessons are more likely to land in the honor roll than easy-going ones.” Here, the relative clause “who conscientiously study their lessons” can’t be taken out from that sentence, for to do so will seriously alter the sense and meaning of what’s being said. Indeed, if we drop that relative clause, we’d end up with this nonsensical statement: “Students are more likely to land in the honor roll than the easy-going ones.”

2. Relative clause introduced by “that:” “The practical lessons that we learned from our summer orientation course served us well in our formal behavioral studies.” Here, the relative clause “that we learned from our summer orientation course” is integral to the subject “practical lessons” because it defines the nature of those lessons, distinguishing them from all other such lessons.

The nondefining or nonrestrictive relative clause is the type that isn’t essential to the idea or context of the main clause, and as such is set off from the main clause by a comma, as in this example: “The illegal drug pusher was identified by one of his customers, who told police during interrogation that she was an intimate friend of his for many years.” This type of relative clause is an optional or expendable element of the sentence, and the main clause can stand on its own without it.

I trust that this three-part series has adequately answered Kal’s daunting question about noun clauses and their usage.

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo. E-mail: j8carillo@yahoo.com


Please follow our commenting guidelines.

1 Comment

  1. One more thing: a restrictive relative clause referring to a thing or idea uses “that;” whereas a nonrestrictive one should use “which.” This is the case with American English. In the UK and Commonwealth countries this usage is a little looser.