Writing and Grammar Skills Appendix

Writing Skills: Noun Clauses for Better Sentences

Using Noun Clauses for Better Topic Sentences

Let’s take a look at two sentences:

1. The first way that Edison changed the world was by inventing electricity.

2. First, Edison changed the world by inventing electricity.

Which of these two sentences do you think is better? Why?

In your essays, you can use either way, but it’s important in writing to use variety. That means you should have different kinds of sentences to make your writing better and more interesting. If you just use “First,” “second,” “last” to separate your ideas, it sounds boring. However, the same happens if all of your body paragraph sentences start like this: “The first way is. . . ”, “the second way is. . . ”

So let’s practice other ways to write topic sentences! Is there a way we can change the sentence parts in 1. to make a similar but different sentence?

Below are several ways to make different kinds of topic sentences, depending on the kind of essay you are writing. You may want to practice by making some example sentences for your essay topic.

Note: Clauses have a subject and a verb, although they may not make a complete idea.

Example: where he was going

Phrases are a group of words, but they do not have a verb. They usually consist of nouns, gerunds, infinitives, adjectives, and prepositions.

Example: the reason behind all the commotion

Before you write an essay, practice making good topic sentences using the charts below.

 

For classifying information:

Subject (controlling idea)

Adjective clause (topic)

“be” verb

Object / prepositional phrase (paragraph focus)

The first way

(that) MLK changed the world

is / was

by fighting for equal civil rights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gerund phrase (paragraph focus)

“be” verb

Subject (controlling idea)

Adjective clause (topic)

Fighting for equal civil rights

is / was

the first way

that) MLK changed the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For processes:

step process

Infinitive phrase (topic) (optional)

“be” verb

Infinitive phrase (paragraph focus: step)

The first step

(to get a handsome boyfriend)

is

to go to parties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gerund phrase (paragraph focus: step)

“be” verb

step process

infinitive phrase (topic) (optional)

Going to parties

is

the first step

(to get a handsome boyfriend).

 

 

 

 

 

 

For classifying information:

Subject (controlling idea)

Adjective clause (topic)

“be” verb

Object / prepositional phrase (paragraph focus)

The first way

(that) MLK changed the world

is / was

by fighting for equal civil rights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gerund phrase (paragraph focus)

“be” verb

Subject (controlling idea)

Adjective clause (topic)

Fighting for equal civil rights

is / was

the first way

that) MLK changed the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For processes:

step process

Infinitive phrase (topic) (optional)

“be” verb

Infinitive phrase (paragraph focus: step)

The first step

(to get a handsome boyfriend)

is

to go to parties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gerund phrase (paragraph focus: step)

“be” verb

step process

infinitive phrase (topic) (optional)

Going to parties

is

the first step

(to get a handsome boyfriend).

 

 

 

 

 

 

To explain causes:

number

“cause” noun

topic as noun phrase

“be” verb

“cause” noun phrase

One

cause of

 

deforestation

 

is

to make more land available for human life.

Another

trigger of

 

 

An additional

reason for

 

 

The last

explanation for

 

 

“Cause” noun phrase

“Be” verb

Number

“Cause” noun

Topic as noun phrase

Making more land available for human life

 

is

one

cause of

deforestation.

 

 

another

trigger of

 

 

reason for

 

 

explanation for

To explain effects:

number

“effect” noun

topic as noun phrase

“be” verb

“effect” noun phrase

One

effect of

deforestation

is

less oxygen in the atmosphere.

Another

consequence of

 

 

An additional

result of

 

 

The last

outcome of

 

 

“effect” noun phrase

“Be” verb

Number

“effect” noun

Topic as noun phrase

Less oxygen in the atmosphere

is

one

effect of

deforestation.

 

 

another

consequence of

 

 

also

a result of

 

 

the last

outcome of

To give reasons:

Number + “reason” (why)

opinion noun clause

“be” verb

(that) reason noun clause

One reason (why)

we should stop cutting down rainforests

is

(that) it reduces the amount of oxygen in the air.

The second reason (why)

 

 

Another reason (why)

 

 

The last reason (why)

 

 

reason as noun phrase

“be” verb

number + “reason” (why)

opinion noun clause

The reduction of the amount of oxygen in the air

is

the first reason (why)

we should stop cutting down rainforests.

 

 

the second reason (why)

 

 

another reason (why)

 

 

the last reason (why)

Other Noun Clauses

It + “be” + adj. + (that) noun clause

This formula is a very common sentence construct in English. The following adjectives are often used with the formula:

amazing clear good important interesting
likely lucky nice obvious a pity
possible a shame strange surprising too bad
true undeniable unfortunate (well) known wonderful

Also, “for + (someone)” and an infinitive can also be added to the formula. Take a look at how the following sentences are constructed using different parts of the formula:

  • It is impossible that John got away with murder.
  • It’s too bad for Amy that Bill broke up with her.
  • It is nice to know that I have good friends to help me.
  • It is important for students to realize how Greek influence permeates American culture.

Sentence Practice

Practice a variety of the “it is adj” formula in the following sentences.

  1. It is lucky__________________________________________________________________ .
  2. It’s a shame _______________________________________________________________ .
  3. 3. It is highly possible ______________________________________________________ .
  4. 4. It’s very possible ________________________________________________________ .
  5. 5. It is strange _____________________________________________________________ .

Noun clauses from question-answer responses

Another common type of noun clause are ones made from questions. They usually describe discussions of questions or report the answers to questions.

 

Example:

  • Student A: Where does Xu live?
  • Student B: I don’t know.
  • Reported sentence: I don’t know where Xu lives.

 

The question and the answer can be combined to report someone’s answer about something using noun clauses. The most important thing to remember here is that when you make the question into a noun clause, it does NOT keep the question grammar.

 

These kinds of noun clauses can be the subject or object of the sentence.

 

Example: We do not know exactly how many people were affected by the power outage.

Example: Exactly how many people were affected by the power outage remains unknown.

 

This can be done for all kinds of questions, including yes / no questions. But for yes / no questions, the noun clauses look a little different. For yes / no questions, we can use either “if” or “whether” in the noun clause.

 

Example: 

  • Xu: Are we going to have a test tomorrow?
  • Bill: I’m not sure.
  • Bill isn’t sure if we are going to have a test tomorrow.
  • Whether we have a test tomorrow (or not) depends on Mrs. D’s mood.

 

For questions that involve “can”, “could”, or “should”, a noun clause can be used or an infinitive.

Example:

  • Xu: I have a big problem. What should I do? Please tell me! Please tell me what I should do about my problem.
  • Please tell me what to do about my problem.
  • I don’t know where you could find tacos in this city.
  • I don’t know where to find tacos in this city.

Noun clause practice

Put together the following conversations into one sentence using a noun clause.

Example:  A: Who are you taking to the dance? B: I don’t know yet.

Answer: I don’t know yet who I am taking to the dance.

  1. A: Where did John go? B: I have no idea.                                                                                             __________________________________________________________________________
  2. A: William lost his job. B: That’s a shame.                                                                                           __________________________________________________________________________
  3. A: Who is that girl over there? B: It’s obvious!                                                                                     __________________________________________________________________________
  4. A: Yuxin got roses from her boyfriend! B: That’s so nice!                                                                   __________________________________________________________________________
  5. A: How can I get to the bus station? B: *gives directions*                                                                 __________________________________________________________________________
  6. A: It’s snowing. Should I go home or stay here at work until it stops? B: That’s up to you to decide. _________________________________________________________________________
  7. A: Would your sister like to come to my party? B: I’ll find out tonight.                                              __________________________________________________________________________
  8. A: Does the copy machine need more paper? B: I’ll let you know.                                                    __________________________________________________________________________
  9. A: Anna loves her new job. B: That’s clear.                                                                                          __________________________________________________________________________
  10. A: How do you use a microwave? B: I don’t know…                                                                            __________________________________________________________________________

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It’s All Greek to Me! by Charity Davenport is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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