Clauses

Noun Clauses: What's in a Name?

Not to be left out of the fun, nouns also have their own clause. Just as you would expect, a noun clause is a dependent clause that functions as a noun. Because it functions as a noun, this clause can be a subject, direct object, indirect object, object of a preposition, predicate nominative, or appositive. For instance:

  • No one understands why experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.
  • The noun clause “why experience is something you don't get until just after you need it” functions as a direct object.
  • Where the candy bar is hidden remains a mystery.
  • The noun clause “where the candy bar is hidden” functions as the subject of the sentence.
You Could Look It Up

A noun clause is a dependent clause that functions as a noun.

  • The instructor gave whoever got their papers in early extra credit.
  • The noun clause “whoever got their papers in early” functions as an indirect object.

Connect the Dots

Clauses can also be used to express comparisons. When such clauses imply some of the words rather than state them outright, you have created an elliptical clause. The name “elliptical” comes from the word ellipsis, which means “omission.” For example:

  • The other members of the demonstration were as angry as I.
  • Insert the missing word was after “I.”
  • The social climber feared the judgment of the decorator more than the cost of the project.
  • Insert the missing subject and verb “he (or she) feared” after the word than.
You Could Look It Up

Elliptical clauses intentionally omit words for conciseness.

Elliptical clauses come in different flavors: adverb, adjective, and noun. Here's how you can recognize them.

Type of ClauseWhat's Omitted
Adverb clauseSubject, verb, or either one
Adjective clauseThe words that, which, whom
Noun clauseSubject, verb, or the second half of the comparison
Danger, Will Robinson

Because elliptical clauses are missing words, there's a danger that they might not convey your meaning. As you write, say the word or words you are leaving out to make sure your clauses are clear.

The mark of punctuation called an ellipsis is three spaced dots (…). It's used to show that something has been intentionally omitted from a sentence. Elliptical clauses don't use the three spaced dots of the ellipsis; instead, the elliptical clause just swipes the name of the ellipsis and adopts its function in the way it structures a sentence by omitting certain words.

Elliptical clauses help create concise writing and speech. In these days when many people have a lot to say but say little, we want to support the use of the elliptical clause as much as possible.

Getting Down and Dirty

Time for fun, Gentle Reader. Knowing how to identify clauses is important, but it's even more important that you know how to use them to create precise and graceful sentences. Try it now. Combine each pair of clauses to eliminate unnecessary words and express the meaning more clearly. There are several different ways to combine each sentence. If you're stumped, I've given you a hint in parenthesis at the end of each pair of sentences.

  • 1. I found the book. I need the book. (that)
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • 2. “Rock Around the Clock” was released by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1955.
  • It is often called the first big rock-and-roll hit. (which)
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • 3. Many people believe that skyscrapers can sway eight feet or more in a strong wind.
  • That is not true. (although or but)
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • 4. Charlie Chaplin was widely copied.
  • He once entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest and came in third. (who)
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • 5. You recommended a movie.
  • It is no longer playing. (that)
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • 6. Dopey does not have a beard.
  • He is the only one of the seven dwarfs without a beard. (who)
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • 7. I received a postcard from a friend.
  • The friend is working in Bora-Bora. (from whom)
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • 8. He travels all over.
  • He collects bizarre souvenirs. (wherever)
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • 9. Thomas Jefferson returned from Naples to American with four crates of “maccarony.”
  • He never guessed that someday his countrymen would be eating more than 150 types of pasta. (when)
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • 10. Pasta has the reputation of being fattening.
  • It is not necessarily fattening. (despite)
  • ____________________________________________________________________
  • ____________________________________________________________________

Answers

  1. I found the book that I need.
  2. “Rock Around the Clock,” which is often called the first big rock-and-roll hit, was released by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1955.
  3. Although many people believe that skyscrapers can sway eight feet or more in a strong wind, that is not true.
  4. Charlie Chaplin, who was widely copied, once entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest and came in third.
  5. The movie that you recommended is no longer playing.
  6. The only one of the seven dwarfs who does not have a beard is Dopey.
    • Or:
    • Dopey is the only one of the seven dwarfs who does not have a beard.
  7. The friend from whom I received a postcard is working in Bora-Bora.
  8. Wherever he travels, he collects bizarre souvenirs.
  9. When Thomas Jefferson returned from Naples to American with four crates of “maccarony,” he never guessed that someday his countrymen would be eating more than 150 types of pasta.
  10. Despite its reputation, pasta is not necessarily fattening.
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.