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Teaching Noun Clauses

When teaching noun clauses, I find it most useful to begin with a brief explanation on two questions:

  1. What do noun clauses do?
  2. How do noun clauses begin?

What do noun clauses do?

Simply put, for the most part, noun clauses do what nouns do. So, a good place to start any discussion of noun clauses is with a brief review of nouns and what they do.

Of the jobs commonly performed by nouns, three of them are also commonly performed by noun clauses. These include...

  • subject
  • direct object
  • subject complement
This is not an exhaustive list, but it should suffice for the purposes of most ESL students.

How do noun clauses begin?

Noun clauses begin with any of a set of ten noun clause subordinators:

  • What = the thing *
  • Who = the person *
  • ----------------
  • Where = the place
  • Why = the reason
  • How = the way
  • ----------------
  • When = the time **
  • ----------------
  • Which = the one you choose
  • ----------------
  • Whether = the unsure thing **
  • If      = the unsure thing **
  • ----------------
  • That = This situation

I find it helpful to divide the noun clause subs into the categories above for several reasons:

* What and Who are somewhat unique because they can be used as the subject of the noun clause whereas the other subordinators cannot.
** When, Whether and If can also cause students some confusion because they are also used as adverb clause subordinators with When being the most confusing as it is additionally used in adjective clauses. (There is a simple test students can use to make the distinction though which will be explained later in this lesson.)
***Which differs from the others in that it is usually followed by an object rather than a subject. [to be discussed later]
****That warrants its own section because the entire that clause is replaced by this situation unlike the other subs where only the subordinator is replaced.
*****The group containing where, why and how are the easiest to use as they have no special issues.

Let's begin our discussion with direct object noun clauses.


page last modified: June 16, 2014

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