- What is a cleft sentence?
A cleft sentence is a complex sentence (main clause + dependent clause) that has a meaning that could be expressed by a simple sentence. We use them to create emphasis by drawing attention to a particular aspect of the sentence. Most cleft sentences are constructed by using a relative pronoun.
- Most common types of cleft sentences
a) All/The only (thing)-cleft
Your happiness interests me. → The only thing that interests me is your happiness.
I think about you. → All (that) I think about is you.
He saw your dad. → (The person) whom he saw was your dad.
He wanted to buy a Fiat. → What he wanted to buy was a Fiat. / What he wanted was to buy a Fiat.
c) Reversed Wh-cleft
I used to live in that house. → That house is where I used to live. / That house is the one in which I used to live.
I read the Da Vinci Code last summer. → The Da Vinci Code is what I read last summer.
On hot days we turn the AC. → Turning on the AC is what we do on hot days.
d) It+to be-cleft
You broke the window. → It was you who broke the window.
A gun shot has ended John’s life. → It has been a gunshot that has ended John’s life.
Note: with most cleft sentences, you can choose to emphasise the subject or the object of the original sentence.
Example: I used to live in a house
Subject: It was me who used to live in a house. (not someone else)
Object: It was a house where I used to live. (not a flat)
- Other ways of emphasising
a) Auxiliary verbs: stressing the auxiliary verb in a sentence can help to show determination, to convince or to contradict someone.
You will be back before twelve, or else.
– I don’t think you’re capable of cheating.
– I am capable, you’ll see.
In the present simple or past simple we use do or did, except with the verb “to be”:
– You didn’t do the washing up, did you?.
– I did wash up, I swear.
b) So / such
I’m so hungry (that) I could eat a whole cow by myself.
She’s such a beautiful woman!
c) Exaggerated vocabulary
I’m starved to death!
d) Intensifying adverbs
The film was extremely amusing.
It’s as cold as ice.
f) Questions or negatives with “on earth”, “in the world”, “in creation”
Who on earth would go out in this cold?
There’s nothing in the world as pleasant as a warm bath.
g) Intonation: you can decide to stress a particular element in a sentence to convey a specific meaning.
Sean loves to drink coffee in the mornings. (not someone else)
Sean loves to drink coffee in the mornings. (not like or hate)
Sean loves to drink coffee in the mornings. (not to prepare it)
Sean loves to drink coffee in the mornings. (not milk or tea)
Sean loves to drink coffee in the mornings. (not in the afternoons)
– Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleft_sentence
– O’Dell, F. & Broadhead, A. (2012). Objective Advanced (Students’ Book), p. 173. Cambridge: CUP
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