TOPIC 6: Nominal clause (1): The that-nominal clause

Outline of the lesson



Required reading

Key terms

Defining nominal clauses

Types of nominal clauses

that-nominal clause

  • form
  • functions


Self study questions and Class Project


By the end of this lesson, the student will be  able to:

1.explain the term nominal clause.

2.identify the types of nominal clauses.

3.explain the form of the that-nominal  clause.

4.discuss the functions of the that-nominal  clause.

Key terms

Find the meaning of the following key  words:


2.that-clause that-clause


5.ellipsis, ellipted, elliptical

Required Readings

›Quirk, R. & Greenbaum, S. (1973). university grammar of English. Essex:  Longman. (pp. 316-322)

› Thompson, G. (2014). Introducing  functional grammar (3rd ed.). New York  & London: Routledge. (pp. 14-26)


In Weeks 4 and 5, we examined classes of  clauses based on their form or structure.

We arrived at three classes: finite, non-  finite and verbless. We indicated that the  distinctive character of the verbless  clause is that its verbal element is ellipted .

› In this and the following weeks, we will be  examining types of clauses based on their  functions.

Defining a nominal clause

A nominal clause is a rankshifted (or embedded) clause which  performs functions normally associated with the noun group.

We derive the word ‘nominal’ from the word ‘noun’.

Can you recall some of the functions of the noun group?  Please write two of them down in your notebook for  discussion.

Defining nominal clause

1. What we know already is not important now.-Nominal clause

subject:what we know already

verbal group:is not (finite predicator)

complement:important (adjectival group)

adjunct:now (adverbial group)

2.I heard that you passed the paper.

subject:I (noun group)

verbal group:heard (finite/predicator)

object:that you passed the paper (nominal clause)

Consider the examples explained in the last two  slides again:

1.What we know already is not important now.

2.I heard that you passed the paper.

› Can you explain why the constructions  highlighted are clauses? Why will you say that  they are rankshifted (or embedded)?

› A nominal clause can be finite (1) or non-  finite (2). Therefore, when you identify a  nominal clause, you also have to state  whether it is finite (1) or non-finite (2):

1.What I ate is not your concern.

2.What to eat is the problem now.

Types of nominal clauses

vWe can identify five main types of nominal clauses in English,  and they are distinguished based on their form. Note that they  all share similar functions; that is why they are called nominal  clauses:


› that-nominal clause

› wh-nominal clause

› nominal relative clause

› infinitive nominal clause

bare-infinitive nominal clause

to-infinitive nominal clause

› – ing nominal clause

This lesson focuses on the that-nominal clause.


that-nominal clause

The thatnominal clause is normally introduced by the  subordinator that:

(1) That  they are good students (subject) is (finite verb/predicator) true (complement).

My fear (subject) is  (finite/predicator) that the semester will be a difficult one (complement).

The that-nominal clause is always a finite clause.

Functions of the that-nominal clause

that-nominal clauses can function as:



subject Complement

Complement of an adjective



that-nominal clauses are highlighted:

1.That she is still alive is a consolation.

2.That the sun rises from the east is a fact.

3.That men are stronger than women is arguable.

4.That tramadol abuse is on the increase is  surprising.


The that-nominal clause can function as direct  object:

1.I believe that he was wrong.

2.We know that help will come.

3.She noted that it was good to abstain.

They observed that they were being pampered


. subject Complement

  • The that-nominal clause can also occur as (subject) Complement:

1.The theory is that child development proceeds in stages.

2.His facial expression seems  that he has been disappointed.

3.The offence is that she insulted the husband.

4.It appears that she left her book on the floor.


  1. adjective Complement

The that -nominal clause can function as an adjective  Complement:

1.I’m sure that things will improve.

2.The man is hopeful that he will get a job.

3.They are happy that we have come.


Zero that-nominal clause

  • When the that-nominal clause is Object or adjective Complement, the conjunction that can sometimes be ellipted. In such instances, it is  called zero that-clause.
  • Examples:1.I know (that) my redeemer lives.2.They told me  (that) my redeemer lives.3.It is clear (that) he is not coming.4.I believe (that) Covid-19 is real.Note: the brackets mean the conjunction “that” can be  ellipted. Also note that we cannot omit that in: I saw  that he was leaving:

    *I saw he was leaving

    1. SUMMARY
    2. › In this lesson, we have discussed that:1.Nominal clauses are typically rankshifted clauses that  perform functions normally associated with the noun  group. e.g. Subject, Object, etc.2.that-nominal clauses are introduced by the conjunctionthat.3.The conjunction that can sometimes be ellipted when thethat-nominal clause is Object.

      4.that-nominal clauses perform the following functions:  Subject, (direct) Object, subject Complement, adjective  Complement.

    3. Self Study Questions
    4. 1.Identify the functions of the that-nominal clauses  highlighted in the following sentences:a)It is clear that she’s not accepting her boyfriend  back.b)This assumption, that COVID-19 is a devilish  disease, is unfounded.c)That we must improve our personal hygiene in this  period is important.d)I saw that he was leaving the room.e)I know he’s not a fool.

      f)The assertion that all men all equal is arguable.

class project

› Find out the circumstances in which the  conjunction that can be ellipted in Object  position and the circumstances in which it  cannot be ellipted in Object position. You  can compare examples in the reading  materials and also consult the internet.


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