Unit 9: More About Clauses: 9.3 Noun clauses

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Like NP's, NOUN CLAUSES function as S and O at clause level. They are commonly introduced by the conjunction that, although this is often omitted, especially in speech.


9.

Se{

MCl [
S

NP
H
(He)
pn
P

VP
H
(told)
V
Oi

NP
H
(me)
pn
Od
SCl [
NCl
x
that
c
S

NP
H
(it)
pn
P

VP
M
(was
a
H
raining)
V

]

]

}

Compare:

MCl [
S

(He)
P

(told)
Oi

(me)
Od

(a story)].

The clause in (9) fulfils the same function as the phrase "a story".

NCl's occasionally occur at S in formal language:


10.

Se{

MCl [
S
SCl [
NCl
x
That
c
S

NP

(it)
P

VP

(was raining)

]
P

VP
H
(was)
V
C

AjP
H
(undeniable)
Aj

]

}

The reason why this type of sentence in rare in colloquial language is because its subject is rather long and therefore hard to process. Our preference is to put long, complex elements towards the end of the sentence so that the listener's comprehension of the structure of the sentence is not made more difficult. This is known as the principle of END WEIGHT. Sometimes in order to preserve this principle we use a DUMMY SUBJECT, marking the subject slot with the pronoun it, as in:

11. It was undeniable that it was raining.

This type of sentence is known as a CLEFT SENTENCE.

Noun Clauses are used frequently in what is called REPORTED or INDIRECT SPEECH.

12a. Direct speech: "It's raining," he said.


12b. Indirect speech:

Se{

MCl [

He said
O
SCl
NCl

[

that it was raining

]

]

}

Note that the tense change in (12b) represents a switch from the speaker's point of view to that of the narrator, and also that the tag is moveable. This is another area of authorial choice. An author will sometimes use these choices to represent character, as in this conversation from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice:

"My dear Mr Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"

Mr Bennet replied that he had not.

"But it is," returned she; "for Mrs Long has just been here, and she told me all about it."

Mr Bennet made no answer.

..........

"Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week."

.........

"Is he married or single?"

"Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"

"How so? How can it affect them?"

Mr Bennet's taciturnity is emphasised by the fact that his speech is reported, while Mrs Bennet uses direct speech.