Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

June 15, 2009

Cleft Sentences

As with the other topics posted, cleft sentences are about trying to make your English more natural and, dare I say it, sophisticated.

I have worked with many students who need English for their job or who are preparing for English language exams and one of the points that comes up again and again, is a lack of flexibility and variety in using vocabulary and sentence structure. Giving yourself an ‘armoury’ of structures and synonyms can greatly enhance your performance both spoken and written.

Many of the topics addressed in this blog are things you can use effectively to make a better impression in your essays, reports and presentations. It is worthwhile looking at them in more detail and making sure that you are able to use them.

So to cleft sentences: these are ways of changing the emphasis in a sentence by using  clauses beginning with What, Who, Where etc..or It .

  • What helped us was the support of family and friends.
  • It was the fact that we’d spoken on the phone that made meeting easier.

You can see in these examples how the emphasis is placed on the helping in sentence one, instead of the more neutral;

  • We were helped by family and friends

and the fact of having spoken on the telephone in sentence two over;

  • We had spoken on the telephone, a fact that made meeting easier.

The impact of what is important is strong. The wishes, plans or decisions in cleft sentences are clearly defined even though they may not materialise into actions. For example:

  • What he’d hoped for was to retire to the seaside.

We understand here that this didn’t happen but what is important in this sentence is the desire for the move to the seaside and not whether or not they actually went there.

Check this further in your grammar book. You will find exercises there to help you get to grips with it. Don’t forget to use cleft sentences as soon as you get the opportunity! That way you will remember them better.

This week’s featured exercise on Gapfillers is cleft sentences – check it out.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] cleft sentences (see my post on this) […]

    Pingback by 7 great virtues to help you write well in English « Rliberni's Blog – Radical language — July 20, 2011 @ 9:08 pm | Reply


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