When you studied the basic parts of speech in elementary school, you learned that a noun is a word that describes a person, place or thing. You also likely know the difference between a noun, adjective and a verb.

When you start working with noun clauses, grammar can become tricky because noun clauses can include not only a subject but also prepositional phrases and additional types of nouns. While these rules can sound difficult to comprehend, being able to identify noun clauses is an integral part of studying and understanding grammar.

How Do You Identify a Noun?

Since kindergarten, you’ve had a firm grasp on what a noun is. A noun can be a proper noun, which is a name of a person, such as Luke Skywalker, or a place, like Alabama. Nouns can also be a generic or common object, such as a car or a chair or a shoe. In a sentence, however, nouns can take on other forms: They can serve as a direct or indirect object, a subject complement or even an adjective.

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Other Types of Nouns

Nouns also can be plural, possessive, concrete, abstract or collective (which simply refers to a group of nouns, like a pack of dogs). While all of these rules can become very confusing to someone who is trying to learn English language grammar, there are certain tricks and tips to help you identify a noun clause when you see one.

What Is a Clause?

Before you can understand what a noun clause is, it helps to recognize what “clauses” are in general, and no, this does not refer to the Claus who delivers presents on Christmas Eve. In English grammar, a “clause” signifies a group of words that serve as either the subject or predicate (verb phrase) of a sentence.

How to Recognize a Clause in a Sentence

While a main or independent clause makes sense on its own and can form its own sentence, a dependent clause cannot “stand alone” and does not express complete thoughts. In other words, a dependent clause relies on other parts of a sentence to form a complete thought. It’s easy to recognize clauses in a sentence because they typically begin with a preposition or subordinate conjunctions, such as “since,” “when,” “until” and so on.

What Is a Noun Clause?

Now that you understand the purpose a clause serves in the English language, you can better understand the makings of a noun clause. In general, a noun clause is simply a dependent clause that acts as a noun. (Remember, "dependent" simply means that it cannot stand on its own as a complete thought.) You can typically spot a noun clause because it begins with words such as who/whom, whether, whose, which, that, when, where, how and why, to name a few.

Types of Noun Clauses

Noun clauses can contain both a noun and a verb but, again, cannot stand alone as an independent sentence. Simply stated, a noun clause is a group of words that work together to serve as a noun in a sentence. They can serve the same purpose as any other noun in a sentence. Look at a few examples of noun clauses. Consider this sentence:

Whoever brought this pie is an incredible baker.

In this sentence, the noun clause and the entire subject of the sentence is “whoever brought this pie.” The phrase is a clause because it cannot stand alone and would make no sense without the rest of the sentence. The phrase “whoever brought this pie” also serves as the subject of the sentence.

Noun Clauses Can Have More Than One Purpose

Here’s another example of a noun clause:

The teacher will give a prize to whichever team scores the highest.

In this sentence, the phrase “whichever team scores the highest” is the noun clause and, in this case, also serves as a predicate noun, which is just a fancy way of naming a noun that follows a verb. In this sentence, “teacher” is the subject,” and “give” is the main verb. You can use a noun clause exercise worksheet to review.

Things Needed

  • Sentences
  • Clauses

About the Author

Jennifer Brozak earned her state teaching certificate in Secondary English and Communications from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., and her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Pittsburgh. A former high school English teacher, Jennifer enjoys writing articles about parenting and education and has contributed to Reader's Digest, Mamapedia, Shmoop and more.