Similar to the noun and noun phrase in grammatical function, a noun clause is a dependent or subordinate clause that consists of a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause and that performs a nominal function. Some grammars use the term nominal clause for noun clauses.
Conjunctions are “words that link words, phrases, and clauses.” A subordinating conjunction is a conjunction that introduces a subordinate or dependent clause. Subordinating conjunctions that introduce noun clauses are also referred to as noun clause markers. The subordinating conjunctions in English that introduce noun clauses are that (which can be omitted in certain cases), if, whether, wh- words, wh-ever words, and sometimes for.
- Whether you come or not is no concern of mine.
- J.K. Rowling is why I want to write children’s books.
- I need to know what you want for your birthday dinner.
- The boss is giving whoever took the last donut a mean look.
- We can listen to whatever you want on the radio.
Additionally, noun clauses may be either finite or nonfinite in form.
Finite Noun Clauses
The first grammatical form of noun clauses is the finite noun clause. A finite noun clause is a noun clause that contains a finite, or conjugated, verb phrase functioning as a predicate. Finite verb phrases express person (first, second, third), number (singular, plural), and tense (present, past). For example, the following italicized noun clauses are finite:
- Where my daughter hid my keys remains a mystery.
- If you choose to attend college is an important decision.
- The instructor gave whoever got their papers in early extra credit.
- How rich I am should concern no one except me.
- I cannot recall when she and my uncle moved to the United States.
The finite, or conjugated, verbs in the noun clauses are hid (third, singular, past), choose (second, singular/plural, present), got (third, singular, past), am (first, singular, present), and moved (third, plural, past).
Finite noun clauses can be further categorized into declarative content clauses (or that-clauses) and interrogative content clauses (or indirect questions). Declarative content clauses correspond to declarative sentences and convey information or make statements. As the alternate term implies, that-clauses typically begin with the subordinating conjunction that but can also begin with other conjunctions such as if, whether, when, and how. Declarative content clauses often function as direct objects but can also function as subjects, subject complements, object complements, indirect objects, prepositional complements, adjective phrase complements, noun phrase complements, and appositives. For example:
- She told him that he is smart.
- The teacher thought that he was kidding.
- Some people are convinced that they know better than experts.
- My kids love when Grandma comes to visit.
Interrogative content clauses correspond to interrogative sentences and request information or ask questions. Interrogative content clauses begin with a wh- or wh-ever word and can perform the many of the same functions as declarative content clauses except for noun phrase complements and adjective phrase complements. For example:
- You can choose a gift for whomever you want.
- Our dog eats whatever we put in his bowl.
- I want to know what the weather will be.
- Whoever ate my lunch is in big trouble.
Nonfinite Noun Clauses
The second grammatical form of noun clauses is the nonfinite noun clause. A nonfinite noun clause is a noun clause that lacks a finite, or conjugated, verb phrase functioning as a predicate. Nonfinite verbs in English include base forms (verb), infinitives (to + verb), and present participles (verb-ing). For example, the following italicized noun clauses are nonfinite:
- Mom needs you to wash your hands1.
- For her to come to my party would be splendid.
- The teacher listened to him reciting the alphabet2.
- The neighbors heard you singing in the shower2.
- Grandma demands that Espen eat his vegetables3.
The nonfinite, or unconjugated, verbs in the noun clauses are to wash (infinitive), to come (infinitive), reciting (present participle), singing (present participle), and eat (base). Notice also that the object pronouns function as the subject of the nonfinite noun clause when the verb is an infinitive or present participle.
Noun clauses in English grammar are subordinate clauses that consist of a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause and that perform nominal grammatical functions.
1 Some grammars consider constructions such as you to wash your hands as a direct object (you) followed by an object complement (to wash your hands). I disagree.
2 Some grammars consider constructions such as him reciting the alphabet as a noun phrase (pronoun him) followed by a modifier (reciting the alphabet). I again disagree.
3 Some grammars also consider the form of the noun clause in sentences like Grandma demands that Espen eat his vegetables a finite noun clause with a verb conjugated into the subjunctive mood.
Noun clauses in English grammar are subordinate clauses that consist of a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause. Noun clauses perform nominal grammatical functions.
Noun clause is a grammatical form.
The nine grammatical functions performed by noun clauses are subject, subject complement, direct object, object complement, indirect object, prepositional complement, adjective phrase complement, noun phrase complement, and appositive.
The subordinating conjunctions in English that introduce noun clauses are that, Ø, if, whether, wh– words, and wh-ever words.
Noun clauses may be either finite or nonfinite. Finite noun clauses contain conjugated verbs functioning as predicates. Nonfinite noun clauses contain unconjugated verbs functioning as predicates.
Noun clauses may be formed from declarative or interrogative sentences.
Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.