Noun Clauses: What Are Noun Clauses? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on August 25, 2023

Do you want to learn about noun clauses? If so, you've come to the right place. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about them and how to use them in your writing.

In short:

  • Noun clauses are groups of words that take on the function of a noun in a sentence.
  • They are dependent clauses, meaning they must always be paired with another clause. 

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Noun Clauses?

Noun clauses (also known as nominal clauses) are dependent clauses that perform the role of a noun. If you're unsure what a clause is, here's a quick review.

A clause is a group of words containing a subject and predicate. Sometimes, they can stand alone (independent clauses), and other times, they can't (dependent clauses). We've written an entire article on clauses, so you can always check it out if you want to brush up. Here it is.

These clauses are always the dependent type. In other words, they can't stand alone as a complete sentence; instead, they provide additional information relevant to the independent clause.

Here's an example:

I'm a big fan of the books you've written.

The noun clause 'of the books you've written' completes the independent clause 'I'm a big fan,' which could actually stand alone and make sense. However, the noun clause provides additional information that's useful to know. To check that it definitely is a noun clause and that it is indeed performing the role of a noun, let's try replacing it with a pronoun since all nouns can be replaced with pronouns.

I'm a big fan of them.

Or you can replace it with a simple noun:

I'm a big fan of books.

These types of clauses can be short or relatively long (not too long, though; you want to avoid run-on sentences). And they can contain many different parts of speech, including adverbs, prepositions, adjectives, you name it. Regardless of the kinds of words that make up your clause, as long as a noun or a pronoun can replace it, it's a noun clause.

How to Use Noun Clauses

Now we've covered the basics of noun clauses, let's learn how to use them in your sentences.

Include a Subject and a Predicate

As we saw earlier, noun clauses require a subject and a predicate. The subject of a sentence is the thing that performs the verb or has the verb done to it. The predicate is the part of the sentence that describes the action and doesn't include the subject or any of the subject's modifiers. So, that includes the verb and any other words relevant to the verb's action.

So that's the first thing: always ensure your noun clause includes a subject and a predicate. 

I've seen that report he worked so hard on. 

In the above example, the noun clause is underlined. 'he' is the subject, and 'worked so hard on' is the predicate (with 'worked' being the verb).

If there's no subject or no predicate, or neither of the two, it's a phrase, not a clause (more on that later).

Connect it to the Rest of the Sentence

You might need to use connecting words to ensure the sentence flows well between the independent and noun clauses.

Often, noun clauses start with relative pronouns, such as 'that,' 'how,' or 'wh' words. You can also use conjunctions such as 'if' or 'whether.'

Here are some examples:

Our toddler eats whatever we give him.

She told them what they wanted to hear.

The problem is that he doesn't pay attention in class

Noun Clauses as Various Parts of Sentence

Just like any noun, noun clauses can be subject, object, or complement. Let's take a look at some examples.

Here's a sentence where the noun clause performs the role of the subject:

Whoever comes first gets the gold medal.

Here's one where it is the direct object:

Peter hates that he must walk his dog when it's raining

Now let's look at an example where the noun clause is the indirect object:

She sent all the guests who attended the event a thank you note.

Finally, here is an example of a noun clause as a subject complement:

My favorite character is the one who always seems to be in a good mood.

Noun Clauses vs Noun Phrases

A phrase is a group of words that are part of a sentence but don't convey a complete thought. They provide additional information about the rest of the sentence.

Noun phrases include the noun and the rest of the words complementing it. They contain a noun but no verb. They're not complete sentences since they don't meet the minimum requirement for a sentence: a subject and a verb.

An easy way to tell the difference between noun phrases and noun clauses is that phrases are found within clauses.

How much is that doggy in the window?

The box of dinosaurs is his favorite toy.

These vegan croissants are amazing.

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on noun clauses. I hope you found it helpful and that you now feel confident using them in your writing.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Noun clauses are a type of clause that functions as a noun.
  • You need a subject and a predicate to make a clause. 
  • Clauses convey a complete thought, but noun clauses can't stand alone as they are subordinate clauses. They need to be attached to an independent clause.
  • They are usually connected with independent clauses using conjunctions or relative pronouns. 
  • A noun clause can be a subject, object, or complement.

If you enjoyed this article, you should definitely check out our Grammar Book. It's a free online database full of articles that cover grammar topics just like this one.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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