AEM Academy

Noun Clauses

A noun clause is a large noun, one that has a subject and a predicate:

  • Do you know who that is?
  • I don't know what he said.
  • We have to change where we are going to hold the party.
  • Have you decided when the meeting will take place?
  • I don't know why he did that.
  • I don't know how he did that.

Noun clauses start with the W5H words:

  • who
  • what
  • where
  • when
  • why
  • how

Noun clauses also begin with "that." In these cases, "that" means "the fact that."

  • Did you know that the CEO of the company is visiting us tomorrow?

You can tell that this is a noun clause and not a relative clause because the clause answers the question "Did you know WHAT?"

  • I like that John lives next door.

I’m not saying I like John. I’m saying I like the fact that John lives next door. Maybe I like to borrow his tools.

Structure of a noun clause

A noun clause consists of a subject and a predicate.

It differs from a gerund or infinitive phrase, which function as nouns, in that gerund and infinitive phrases don’t contain a predicate.

A noun clause also differs from an adjective/relative clause in that it functions as a noun (subject or object) rather than as a modifier.

Relative pronouns and relative adverbs

Relative pronouns in noun clauses:

  • who: I don’t know who ate your cookie. (I don’t know what?)
  • whoever: Whoever arrives late will be punished. (Who will be punished?)
  • that: I didn’t know that he is a cop. (I didn’t know what?)*

*that = the fact that

  • I like that John lives next door.
  • Do I like John? This information is not contained in the sentence. All we know is that I like the fact that John lives next door, perhaps because he owns many tools that I often borrow.

Relative adverbs (used in exactly the same way as relative pronouns) in noun clauses:

  • where: On the form, you must indicate where you were born. (You must indicate what?)
  • why: I don’t know why I’m here. (I don’t know what?)
  • when: I don’t know when she’s arriving. (I don’t know what?)
  • how: I’d like to know how to do this correctly. (I’d like to know what?)