17 Grammar: Noun Clauses

Cranes and building construction

What do you already know?

Read these sentences:

  • Ramy said something important. He said, “I love swimming. It’s better exercise than any other sport.”
  • Ramy said that swimming is the best exercise.

What is a noun clause?

What is a noun?

A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea.

What is a clause?

A clause is a group of words that contain a subject and a verb. An independent clause is a complete idea; a simple sentence is an example of an independent clause. A dependent clause, however, is not a complete idea.

What is a noun clause?

A noun clause is a dependent clause that works as a noun. A noun clause can be the subject, object, or complement. Noun clauses are very useful for adding details and reporting information from other sources.

Take another look

  • What the teacher said helped me a great deal.
  • The teacher told me which class I should take.
  • The wonderful thing about English teachers is that they are so helpful.

How do you make a noun clause?

Noun clauses are groups of words that work together to do the job of a noun.

Noun clauses are dependent clauses. This means they have a subject and a verb, but they do not express a complete idea by themselves.

A noun clause usually begins with a relative pronoun like that, which, who, whoever, whomever, whose, what, or whatsoever. It can also begin with the subordinating conjunctions how, when, where, whether, and why.

Three common types of noun clauses


SV + that + SV

  • Horace called to say that he will be late.

WH- words

SV + wh + SV or SV + wh + V

  • Horace explained what we should do to start the meeting.
  • He explained what works well for this presentation.


SV + if/whether + SV

  • Horace wanted to know if we understood what to do.
  • We wanted to know whether we should start late or cancel the meeting.

Try it

INSTRUCTIONS: Combine the sentences using a noun clause.

  1. Many tourists decide something. Visiting other parts of Oregon can be an affordable vacation.
  2. Carla needs to decide. She might go to the Oregon Coast or she might go to Crater Lake.
  3. She also needs to determine something else. Someone needs to take care of her cat.
  4. There is a reason. The cat needs special food and medicine.
  5. Who will take care of her cat? It is a big decision for Carla.
  6. Carla will talk to her sister. She will ask her, “What is best?”
  7. It depends on something. What do you like? Sand or snow? That’s what Carla’s sister said.

How do you use noun clauses in reported speech?

“Reported speech” means sharing what other people said or wrote. We do this a lot in school, but it’s also important in life outside of school. There are two kinds of reported speech: direct and indirect.

  • Direct speech uses “quotations”. That means we report the exact words of the other person inside “quotation marks”.
  • Indirect speech uses paraphrasing.  That means we report the idea of the other person but in our own words — and we usually use a noun clause to do this.

When we use information from other sources in our writing (such as a dictionary, a website, or a book), we need to tell our readers where that information came from, even when we paraphrase using our own words. Here’s an example:

  • Direct speech: Mahatma Ghandi said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”
  • Indirect speech: Mahatma Ghandi said that we are responsible for changing our world.

Try it

INSTRUCTIONS: Use a noun clause to rewrite each quotation as indirect speech. (There is more than one way to do this.)

  1. “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity,” said Nelson Mandela.
  2. Martin Luther King, Jr., remarked, “A right delayed is a right denied.”
  3. “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back,” Malala Yousafzai explained.
  4. “Women’s rights are human rights,” declared Hillary Clinton, “and human rights are women’s rights.”

What are some common errors that writers make with noun clauses?

Here’s one …

  • Incorrect: I often wonder how can I do more to help others.
  • Correct: I often wonder how I can do more to help others.

Use statement word order in noun clauses.

Here’s another …

  • Incorrect: The government did not report that the students did during the protest.
  • Correct: The government did not report what the students did during the protest.
  • Incorrect: The students claimed what they were not allowed to protest outside of the school.
  • Correct: The students claimed that they were not allowed to protest outside of the school.

Use that to introduce a noun clause that is a statement. Use what to introduce a noun clause that comes from a question.

Here’s one more …

  • Incorrect: What people say about human rights are an important indication of their character.
  • Correct: What people say about human rights is an important indication of their character.

When a noun clause is a subject, it always takes a singular verb.



INSTRUCTIONS: Use a noun clause to combine the two sentences into one sentence.


She told me something. She is going to New York next month.
She told me that she is going to New York next month.

  1. You hurt him. That is the problem.
  2. The bus will arrive at a new time. Do you know the time?
  3. He will succeed. It is certain.
  4. She is mad. That makes her more dangerous.
  5. He might be lying. I don’t know.
  6. The keys were lost. It was the result of their carelessness.
  7. Where have you put my phone? Tell me please.
  8. We have been deceived. That is the truth.
  9. They distrust their own family. It is difficult to understand the reason.
  10. She is an important speaker. This fact cannot be denied.


Uses these resources to study more about noun clauses:



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