Cleft sentences: 2 types of cleft sentences + Clear examples

Cleft sentences in English

A cleft sentence, in English grammar, is a sentence that divides a message into two parts, using relative clauses or it clauses. The cleft sentence focuses attention on new, more important, or contradictory information.

Cleft sentences examples

  • I have some good friends. Yet, it’s my older brother that I talk to if I have a problem. (Contradiction)
  • What I do if I have a problem is talk to my older brother. (New information)

Cleft sentences can be used in writing as wells as speaking. This post deals with different types of cleft sentences.

cleft sentences

1. It cleft sentences (it clauses):

In a cleft sentence with it clauses, the speaker emphasizes the information in the clause with it.

  • It is you that I love.
  • It was Elena who won the prize.
  • It was my father who motivated me to study harder.
  • It’s the weekend when I usually go to the gym.
  • It’s the mountains where I love to camp.
  • It’s my classmates that I cooperate with to do school projects.
  • It is him that is always making noise in class.

In a cleft sentence with an it clause, we can use who instead of that when we refer to a person.

We use a singular form of the verb be when there is a plural noun in the cleft sentnce.

We use an object pronoun (him) after it + be.

2. Wh cleft sentences

Wh clefts show that one part of a sentence is more important than the other part. Wh clefts, also called Pseudo-cleft sentences, has three principal cleft structures:

  • Structure 1: A what-clause + be + focus

Let’s use the following sentence to apply this structure.

Tom took an English exam at the language center yesterday.

  • What Tom took yesterday at the language center was an English exam. (The focus is on the object)
  • When Tom took an English exam was yesterday. (The emphasis is on the adverb of time)
  • Where Tom took an English exam yesterday was at the language center. (The focus is on the adverbial of place)
  • What Tom did yesterday at the language center was taking an English exam. (The focus here is on the verb)

Structure 2: Focus + be + what-clause

  • An English exam was what tom took yesterday at the language center. (The focus is on the object)
  • Yesterday was when Tom took an English exam at the language center. (The emphasis here is on the adverb of time)
  • The language center was where Tom took an English exam yesterday. ( The focus is on the adverbial of place)
  • Took an English exam was what Tom did yesterday at the language center. (The emphasis here is on the verb)

In cleft structures 1 and 2, the emphasis (focus) is on the same thing even though changing the word order.

Structure 3: That + be + wh-word

  • That is why I missed my classes yesterday.
  • That’s what we did all day long.
  • That’s how I see it.

3. All-clefts

Another type of cleft sentences is all-clefts. All is sometimes used instead of what whithout any change in meaning.

  • What I liked was the food.
  • All I liked was the food.
  • What I want for my birthday is an English-English dictionary.
  • All I want for my birthday is an English-English dictionary.
  • An English-English dictionary is all I want for my birthday.

Can you start a sentence with also? Find the answer here.