Noun Clauses
A Brief Overview

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Look at some examples

Noun clauses are subordinate clauses that are used like nouns--as subjects, objects, and complements.  Before looking at the grammar of noun clauses, please analyze the following examples carefully.  What noun function does each clause in bold type have?

Noun Clauses in a Sociology Textbook Chapter

1. Political scientists study how people govern themselves.

2. Herbert Spencer believed that society operates according to fixed laws.

3. But do you know why more Americans are born on Tuesday than any other day of the week?

4. Political scientists are especially interested in how people attain ruling positions in their society, how they maintain those positions, and the consequences of their activites for those who are governed.

5. What these sociologists had observed was a fundamental shift in U.S. marriage.

6. My next discovery was that there were a dozen or so vicious, underfed dogs snapping at my legs, circling me as if I were to be their next meal.

Types of Noun Clauses

English has two types of clauses that function like nouns.  One type is commonly found after verbs used to report knowledge: know, think, believe, feel, and others.  Generally, the noun clause is the direct object of such a verb and is attached to the verb using that.

That Clauses in a Sociology Textbook Chapter

1. Islam also holds that the sole of a shoe is unclean.

2. Chemists tell us that only ninety-two elements occur 
naturally on the earth, but sociologists know that the world is home to countless variations of human culture

3. Studying fossil records, scientists conclude that, about 2 million years ago, our distant ancestors grasped cultural fundamentals such as the use of fire, tools, and weapons, created simple shelters, and fashioned basic clothing. 

4. In global perspective, we need to remember that behavior that seems normal to us may offend people elsewhere.

English can have that clauses in the subject position as in the following example:

That he loves sociology seems an accurate statement of his interests.
However, such uses are rare--and I had to create this example because I couldn't find one in my source.  Generally, that clauses are used in the direct object.

Wh-clauses as Nouns

One of the uses of wh-clauses is as nouns--as subjects, objects, and complements. 

Wh-clauses in a Sociology Textbook Chapter

1. Sociology examines how social contexts influence people's lives.

2. To find out why people do what they do, sociologists look at social location.

3. When the newspapers reported this case, sociologist Kingsley Davis decided to find out what happened to Isabelle after her discovery. 

4. Let's use the case of Isabelle to give us some insight into what human nature is.

5. For other parts, the individual is a blank slate, and it is entirely up to the environment to determine what is written on that slate.

6. What sociologists appreciate about Freud is his emphasis on socialization.

As with that clauses, wh-clauses are rarely used as the subject of a sentence and are much more commonly found as objects and complements.

Try analyzing the internal structure of the example sentences in the three sets of examples given in this section of the lecture.  Please let me know your questions and/or comments. Thanks.