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On cleft sentences

I was -believe it not- studying cleft sentences this morning. So I “googled” “cleft sentences” and I found very good info on the BBC Learning English site. I am copying and pasting the grammar notes for you. Two pointers for you.

1. The other day I was not sure whether the preposition “to” could be used in a sentence such as:

What the police did first was (to) interview all the witnesses to the accident.

Our textbook did not make any reference to that and I recall I did write “to” on the board to some people’s surprise, as this was not explained in the textbook. I told you I would have a look at that so there you go. You can include the preposition or not. Both ways “sounded” OK to me.

2. Sentences of this type:

It was a new car that my brother bought from our neighbour last Saturday.

Notice the use of the relative “that”. So it’s “that” and not “what”.

Hope this helps!!

Cleft structures with what-clauses are also often used with does/do/did and with the verb happen when we want to give emphasis to the whole sentence, rather than a particular clause.Compare the following:

  • The police interviewed all the witnesses to the accident first.
  • What the police did first was (to) interview all the witnesses to the accident.
  • You should invest all your money in telecoms companies.
  • What you should do is (to) invest all your money in telecoms companies.
  • What you should invest all your money in is telecoms companies.
  • She writes all her novels on a typewriter.
  • What she does is (to) write all her novels on a type writer.
  • Their car broke down on the motorway so they didn’t get to Jo’s wedding on time.
  • What happened was that their car broke down on the motorway so they didn’t get to Jo’s wedding on time.
       
    It is sometimes very effective to use all instead of what in a cleft structure if you want to focus on one particular thing and nothing else:

  • I want a new coat for Christmas.
  • All I want for Christmas is a new coat.
  • A new coat is all I want for Christmas.
  • I touched the bedside light and it broke.
  • All I did was (to) touch the bedside light and it broke.

 

    Finally, we can also use preparatory it in cleft sentences and join the words that we want to focus on to the relative clause with that, who or when. In the example which follows, note how this construction enables us to focus on different aspects of the information, which may be important at the time:

  • My brother bought his new car from our next-door neighbour last Saturday.
  • It was my brother who bought his new car from our neighbour last Saturday.
  • It was last Saturday when my brother bought his new car from our neighbour.
  • It was a new car that my brother bought from our neighbour last Saturday.
  • It was our next-door neighbour that my brother bought his new car from last Saturday.

Comments»

1. Deborah Ann Estes - December 1, 2011

Wonderfuly explained!
Thanks,
Deborah


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