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An A to Z of spoken grammar: C

8 October 2019

Spoken grammar: lexico-grammatical features of conversation highlighted in corpus research.


C is for ... cleft structures


The word ‘cleft’ means ‘split’ or ‘divided into two’, as in ‘cleft palate’, for example, which describes a medical condition where the roof of the mouth is split into two parts.

In grammar, a cleft structure is one where information that could be given in one clause is actually given in two in order to add extra emphasis or focus to the statement:

I really love the ending of the film. → It’s the ending of the film that I really love.

Cleft structures are sometimes divided into main two types: ‘it’ clefts (as above) and ‘what’ clefts like these:

What I want is a nice, hot bath.

What we need now is a bright idea.


But there are other types of cleft structure, and the one I'd like to mention here – the ‘demonstrative wh-cleft’ (where ‘wh’ refers to question words)  is quite common in conversation (because of its gently emphatic nature?) but occasionally overlooked.


Here’s the typical pattern:

That’s + dependent clause beginning with how/what/when/where/who/why …


And here are three examples:


A: So you like going to the market?

B: Of course. That’s where you get the cheapest vegetables.

(instead of You get the cheapest vegetables there.)


A: Is there a café near the lake?

B: No. It’s best to take a packed lunch. That’s what I do, anyway.


A: I’ve got a headache again.

B: That’s why you need to take a break.


To find out about teaching spoken grammar, visit my online course, Spoken Grammar: A Guide for English Language Teachers.

(D is for ... declarative questions: 11 October 2019)