There are several ways to add
(focus) to parts of your
sentences in English
by changing the word
sentences are one way to add
emphasis to what we want to say.
The word "cleft" means divided or split.
A cleft sentence is a sentence in which some part is moved from its normal position into a different place to give it more emphasis.
For example, instead of saying:
Joe ate the cake.
We could say:
It was Joe who ate the cake.
This puts the emphasis on the word Joe. This is a cleft sentence.
sentences are used in spoken and
written English, but they are more common in written English.
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help us focus on a certain part of a sentence
emphasis to what we want to say. We use cleft sentences to to connect
what is already understood to what is new to the listener. Cleft
sentences let us focus on the new information.
Cleft sentences are more common in written
English because we cannot
use intonation in written English. (Intonation is the rise and fall in
the pitch of your voice when speaking.)
from the verb to cleave,
meaning to divide into two.
are divided into two clauses.
Each clause has its own
There are different types of cleft sentences. The most common types are
the IT sentence patterns
and the WH sentence
patterns. We will focus
on these two types of cleft sentence patterns in this lesson.
IT cleft sentences
This is the basic pattern of an IT
+ be verb + subject, object, etc
+ that/who relative clause
was the boys who started the fight.
is rain that cancels parades.
is the secretary that I wish to thank.
was my mother who taught me to love.
You can use other pronouns in place of "it" to make cleft
were my books that you borrowed.
is my pencil that you broke.
is the guitar that I want to purchase.
We use cleft sentences to
to connect what
is already understood to what
is new to the listener. Cleft sentences let us focus on
– You met my teacher, Mr. Jones, didn't
– No, it was Mrs. Smith that I met.
In the second sentence, the focus is on the new information: Mrs. Smith.
The understood information (old information) is at the end: I
met your teacher.
– I borrowed someone's books.
– Those were my books that you borrowed.
Focus (new information): my books
Understood (old) information: You
borrowed someone's books
– You called me on Monday, didn't you?
– It was Tuesday that I called you.
Focus (new information): Tuesday
(old information): I called you
In informal situations, we sometimes leave out "that" in cleft
- It was Mrs. Smith that I met.
It was Mrs. Smith I met.
- Those were my books that you borrowed.
Those were my books you borrowed.
- It was Tuesday that I called you.
It was Tuesday I called you.
Cleft sentences can
also be negative
- It wasn't
Mr. Jones that I met.
- It was
those boys who started the fight.
- It wasn't
Monday that I called you.
- That is not the guitar
that I wanted to purchase.
- Those were not my books
WH cleft sentences are also sometimes called pseudo cleft sentences.
WH cleft sentences (pseudo cleft
In pseudo-cleft sentences, the emphasis (focus) is usually at the end of the
This is the basic structure of a WH (pseudo) cleft sentence.
clause + be verb + emphasized word or phrase
These cleft sentences begin with WH words such as what, why, where and
the words all,
the thing, something, one thing.
In WH cleft sentences,
(old) information is at the beginning of the sentence
rather than the end of the sentence. The focus
(new information) is at
the end of the sentence.
– What do you need?
– What I need
is something to drink.
In the second sentence, the focus is on the new information: I need
something to drink.
The understood information (old information)
is at the beginning: I need
– What do you want?
– The one thing I want
is to be rich.
Focus (new information): I want to
Understood (old information): I want
– What do you want for Christmas?
– All I want for
Christmas is you.
Focus (new information): I want you
Understood (old information): I want
something for Christmas
More pseudo cleft sentences (WH clefts):
I need now is a cup of tea.
first thing I notice about people is their smiles.
really important to me is my family.
she was trying to do was earn his respect.
one thing I love the most is ice cream.
verbs can also be used in cleft sentences to add emphasis.
Modal verbs in cleft sentences
- It might
be my phone that you hear ringing.
- It must
have been his mother who taught him how to grow sunflowers.
- It may
have been my fault that the plant died.
- It could
have been Mrs. Smith that I met.
- What I need now might be a cup of
- What's really important to me should be my family.
- The one thing I love the most may be ice cream.
- The first thing I notice about people could be their
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