Cleft sentences divide a message into two parts, using what or if clauses. They can shift the focus of attention to more important or contradictory information. The information we choose to focus on is put after what or if in the sentence.

eg. The sentence: Sarah studied architecture at Curtin University.

can be rewritten as: It was Sarah who studied architecture at Curtin University. (focus is on Sarah)

or: It was architecture that Sarah studied at Curtin University. (focus on architecture)

or: It was at Curtin University that Sarah studied architecture. (focus on Curtin University)

What Clauses

The what clause is immediately followed by known information.

eg. We’ll get together for lunch every Wednesday and chat.

What we chat about is how different our lives have become.

We know that they chat because of the speaker’s previous sentence. The new information, that they chat about how different their lives have become, is in the second part of the sentence. We join the two clauses in this type of cleft sentence with be.

Other examples:

What we do every Sunday is sit down for a long, late lunch.

What makes me really angry is Tom being late for dinner.

What is of utmost importance is how to get good grades.

To focus on an action we can use: what + subject + do + be (+ subject) + infinitive clause.

eg. What Liam does is act as confidently as he can at job interviews.

To focus on a whole sentence we can use what happens + be + subject + clause.

eg. What happens is she always manages to burn the toast.

NB: When we use who, why, whose, when, where, etc instead of what, we usually use an expression like a person, a reason, etc with or without the wh- word.

eg. A person (who) I can trust is my doctor.

The reason (why) we meet every week is to keep in touch.

We can reverse the order of the clauses in wh- cleft sentences without changing the meaning.

eg. My doctor is a person (who) I can trust.

To keep in touch is the reason (why) we meet every week.

We can use the thing/something/all/anything/one thing, etc in place of what/whatever in cleft sentences.

eg. One thing I Iove doing on Saturdays is going for a drive.

Anything I try to do to help is unappreciated.

It clauses

In cleft sentences with an it clause, the speaker emphasises the information in the clause with it, and the verb that follows it is be.

eg. It isn’t until after I ‘ve taken a shower that I really wake up in the morning.

It’s my sister who is coming to visit us.

NB: In cleft sentences with an it clause, who can be used instead of that when referring to people.

When there is a plural noun in the it clause we still use a singular verb form of verb be.

eg. It’s the waiters that I find really rude. NOT It are the waiters…

We use an object pronoun after it + be.

eg. It’s her that doesn’t want to go to the party.


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