Grammar What Is a Noun Clause? |
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What Is a Noun Clause?

American English grammar includes many components we use every day but may not always examine. For instance, you probably say, write, and hear noun clauses constantly even if you wouldn’t be instantly ready to explain what they are.

In this article we’ll review the definition of a noun clause. We’ll also look at its parts as well as some examples. You’ll know what noun clauses are, why we use them, and how to identify them.

Defining Nouns and Clauses

To understand what a noun clause is, let’s begin with its individual parts.

A noun is a word that refers to an object or thing. For example, table is a noun.

A clause is a grammatical unit containing a subject and a predicate and forming part of a sentence or a whole, simple sentence. In some cases you might have more than one clause in a sentence.

For example, cats are fast is a clause (not to be confused with claws). That could be either a standalone sentence or part of a bigger sentence with another clause, such as cats are fast, and they like chasing birds.

The Definition of a Noun Clause

A noun clause is a dependent clause being used as a noun. Consider the following:

I know how the magician did the first trick.

In this sentence, how the magician did the first trick is a dependent clause. Its grammatical role, however, is a noun: The complete dependent clause is the direct object of the sentence, which in full is an independent clause.

Here’s another example:

Now that he’s won the lottery, Jimmy can do whatever he wants.

In this sentence, whatever he wants is a noun clause that is serving as the direct object of the independent clause Jimmy can do whatever he wants.

Identifying Noun Clauses

The concept of a noun clause becomes simpler when you note that it’s a group of words being treated as a singular object. You also can apply a couple of techniques for recognizing them.

The first is to spot certain words that almost always appear at the front of a noun clause. Known grammatically as subordinating conjunctions, these might include words such as how, what, when, where, that, who, and why (along with variations). If you see one of them at the start of a statement with a subject and a verb, there’s a good chance you’re at the front of a noun clause.

Another way to pick up on a noun clause is to ask yourself whether a string of words could be replaced by it, that, or them. Let’s try that with our two example sentences:

I know how the magician did the first trick. > I know it.

Now that he’s won the lottery, Jimmy can do whatever he wants. > Now that he’s won the lottery, Jimmy can do that.

Although less descriptive and clear, these sentences are grammatically correct, establishing that we can replace each noun clause with a pronoun.

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