How many times have you heard natives starting a sentence with what or it or all? For example; ”what really annoys me about him is...”, or ‘it was the expensive bill that got me upset”. All I need is a good supper to fill me up”. These sentences are using these words (what, it, all) to put emphasis on everything else, and makes the following clauses in cursive highly emphasised and stick out; ‘what really annoys me about him is…’ and ‘it was the expensive bill that got me upset.’ ‘all I need is a good supper… These structures are called cleft sentences, meaning ‘divided’. The main words used in cleft sentences are; what, it, and all, and you can use these words to emphasise different parts of the clause. You can also change the order of words of a sentence to make them stand out. This is how cleft sentences work.
It’s definitely an odd grammatical concept that leaves most non-natives flabbergasted and unable to grasp. That’s why we’re going to fully elaborate and understand cleft sentences with examples below.
Non-emphasis and emphasis examples with ‘what’.
- James is a colleague here. (No emphasis).
- What James is, is a colleague here. (James is as a person, absolutely a colleague).
- A colleague is what James is here. (Emphasising that James is definitely a colleague).
- Amanda has a job. (No emphasis).
- A job is what Amanda has. (Amanda definitely has a job).
- What Amanda has is a job. (Amanda has a job).
- Jack has a secret to tell Ann. (No emphasis).
- A secret is what Jack has to tell Ann. (There is definitely a secret to tell).
- What Jack has to tell Ann is a secret. (jack is in possession of a secret).
Non-emphasis and emphasis. Examples with ‘it’.
- My boss sent the signed contract to his colleague on Tuesday. (No emphasis)
- It was my boss that sent the signed contract to his colleague on Tuesday. (No one else, only the boss who sent it).
- It was the signed contract that my boss sent to his colleague on Tuesday. (Nothing else, only the contract that was sent).
- It was his colleagues that my boss sent the signed contract to on Tuesday. (NOT to anybody else).
- It was Tuesday that my boss sent the signed contract to his colleagues. (ONLY on Tuesday, NO other day).
In the four above examples, the clause is being emphasised differently depending on the cleft structure.
Cleft sentences with ‘all’.
- All I’ve done today is be annoying to my sister.
- All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.
- What will you be having for dinner tonight? All I’ll be having for dinner is a pork chop.
- All you need is love.
Above sentences in non-cleft form.
- I haven’t done much today, except being annoying to my sister.
- I want my two front teeth for Christmas.
- What will you be having for dinner tonight? I’ll only be having a pork chop for dinner.
- You need love.
The sentences used in cleft form put more emphasis on the varies clauses and depending on the context are necessary.
Modal auxiliary verbs:
- Articles (a/an, the, zero article)
- Pronouns: subject, object and possessive
- Question tags
- English conditionals
- Interrogatives in English
- Phrasal verbs
- Prefixes and suffixes
- Reported and direct speech
- Punctuation: apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, commas, dashes, full stops, question marks, exclamation marks, and quotation marks
- Numbers: cardinal, ordinal, and Roman numbers
- The verb: “get”
- ‘Get’ vs. ‘go’ and ‘got’ vs. ‘gotten’
- Copular verbs
- Subjunctive in English
- Vulgar and taboo in English
- Split infinitive
- Emphasis with inversion
- Gerunds in English
- To + infinitive
- Bare infinitive
- British and American spelling