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What Are Noun Clauses? (with Examples)

What Are Noun Clauses? (with Examples)

A noun clause is a clause that plays the role of a noun. For example (noun clauses shaded):
  • I like what I see.
  • I know that the tide is turning.
  • I've met the man who won the lottery.
  • (Not all agree this is a noun clause. See Note on the right.)
Compare the three examples above to these:
  • I like cakes.
  • I know London.
  • I've met Madonna.
The words in bold are all nouns. This shows that shaded clauses in the first three examples are functioning as nouns, making them noun clauses.

Like any noun, a noun clause can be a subject, an object, or a complement.

In a sentence, a noun clause will be a dependent clause. In other words, a noun clause does not stand alone as a complete thought.

Examples of Noun Clauses

Here are some examples of noun clauses:
  • A person who trusts no one can't be trusted. (Jerome Blattner)
  • (This noun clause is the subject of the sentence.)
    (Not all agree this is a noun clause. See Note on the right.)
  • That he believes his own story is remarkable. (Jerome Blattner)
  • (This noun clause is the subject of the sentence. Be aware that starting a sentence with a noun clause starting That is acceptable, but it grates on lots of people's ears. As a result, many writers prefer to precede it with "The factů".)
  • Ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he's buying. (Fran Lebowitz)
  • (This noun clause is the direct object of ask.)
  • He knows all about art, but he doesn't know what he likes. (James Thurber, 1894-1961)
  • (This noun clause is the direct object of know.)
  • It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man. (H L Mencken, 1880-1956)
  • (This noun clause is the direct object of believe.)
  • I never know how much of what I say is true. (Bette Midler)
  • (This noun clause is an object of a preposition.)
  • Man is what he eats. (Ludwig Feuerbach)
  • (This noun clause is a subject complement.)
  • My one regret in life is that I am not someone else. (Woody Allen)
  • (This noun clause is a subject complement.)

  • An economist is a man who states the obvious in terms of the incomprehensible. (Alfred A Knopf)
  • (This noun clause is a subject complement.)
    (Not all agree this is a noun clause. See Note on the right.)

Quick Test
 
 
Note

Common Starts to Noun Clauses

Lots of noun clauses in English start with that, how, or a "wh"-word (i.e., what, who, which, when, where, why). For example:
  • I know that it happened.
  • I know how it happened.
  • I know why it happened.

Definition of a Noun Clause

A noun clause is a clause that functions as a noun. However, for many, that definition is too generic. A multi-word noun will often contain another type of clause, usually an adjective clause, which provides the verb required for a clause. In the examples below, the multi-word nouns are shaded, and internal clauses are in bold.
  • I've met the man who won the lottery.
  • (In this example, who won the lottery is an adjective clause. Without it, the multi-word noun wouldn't be a clause at all. It would be a phrase (e.g., the lottery-winning man). There is a debate over whether an integral clause makes the multi-word noun a clause.)
Here is another example:
  • A cynic is a man who looks around for a coffin when he smells flowers. (H L Mencken, 1880-1956)
  • (In this example, who looks around for a coffin is an adjective clause modified by when he smells flowers (an adverbial clause). They are both part of the multi-word noun (shaded text), but whether or not they make it a noun clause appears to be up for debate.)
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