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Joe Carillo
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« on: December 14, 2017, 08:56:49 AM »

In last week’s installment of this series, we saw how noun clauses can be formed by simply using any of the question words to introduce a statement, then making sure that the statement becomes a noun form working as a subordinate clause. For instance, in response to the question “How did it happen?”, we can say “How it happened is still a mystery to me” or “It’s still a mystery to me how it happened.” In both sentences, we have formed the noun clause “how it happened” to become the subject in the first sentence and the predicate noun (or subject complement) in the second. That, in a nutshell, is the basic noun clause construction.


It can be argued though that real-life questions need not always be answered with noun clauses as suggested above. True enough, “How did it happen?” can be answered with a simple, forthright “It’s still a mystery to me” or a plain “I don’t know.” But then again, these answers are obviously not as emphatic and forceful as these two answers provided earlier using the noun clause “how it happened”: “How it happened is still a mystery to me.” “It’s still a mystery to me how it happened.”

One virtue of noun clauses in written language, in fact, is that they tacitly but clearly acknowledge the existence of someone other than the writer in the communication situation. We need noun clauses because we are communicating with people other than ourselves; we are talking to an audience. This isn’t a trivial matter. As many of us must have already discovered, expositions that don’t use noun clauses at all rarely make for interesting reading. All too often they sound so bare and insubstantial and hollow as to be a terrible aggravation to read. This is why good writers and good speakers make liberal use of noun clauses to keep their prose engaging and compelling from start to finish.

Noun clauses not only can make our ideas clearer and richer in texture but also can infuse them with a greater sense of immediacy. In speaking situations, in particular, a noun clause in our response—known as the predicate nominative—serves to reiterate or paraphrase the statement or question we are responding to, thus establishing the context of our response clearly for both the speaker and ourselves. For instance, a response like “I understood perfectly what you said about good English being important in getting a good job” is much more communicative than a laconic “I understood perfectly”—especially if the statement from which it draws its context came much, much earlier in the interaction.


In written prose, on the other hand, the noun clause can make our exposition clearer and more coherent by serving as a summary, transitional, or linking device to prior statements in our composition, as in these examples: “This chapter will take up what happened after Lapu-Lapu slew Magellan in Mactan in 1521.”  “Which of the five alternatives we analyzed earlier is superior should be obvious by now.” “Why we decided to abandon the search has already been explained in sufficient detail.” Without any doubt, noun clauses can be a very powerful tool for communicating our ideas precisely and forcefully.

We can appreciate the semantic value of noun clauses much better by looking deeper into their seven uses from a grammar standpoint. Recall now that the noun clause is basically a subordinate clause working as a noun in a complex sentence. By functioning as nouns, therefore, noun clauses can very well do any of the roles that nouns can do, namely as subject, direct object, indirect object, predicate noun, object of a preposition, object complement, and appositive to a subject or object.

We’ll look more closely into these seven functions of noun clauses next week.



This essay, 1070th in the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Section of the December 14, 2017 issue (print edition only) of The Manila Times, © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

(Next: The seven uses of noun clauses - 2)        December 21, 2017
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