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ESL Lesson Plan for Teaching Question to Noun Clause Formation

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 4/5/2012

The following article describes a lesson plan for teaching ESL students how to form noun clauses from questions and includes examples to illustrate form and use.

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    Defining Noun Clause

    Begin by reviewing the definition of the term "noun clause" with your ESL students. Noun clauses are defined as subordinate or dependent clauses that perform nominal functions and that consist of a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause. Clauses contain a grammatical subject and a predicate. The subordinating conjunctions in English that introduce noun clauses are that, Ø, if, whether, wh- words, and wh-ever words. Nominal functions are grammatical functions that are prototypically performed by nouns and noun phrases. The nine grammatical functions that noun clauses can perform are subject, subject complement, direct object, object complement, indirect object, prepositional complement, adjective phrase complement, noun phrase complement, and appositive. Noun clause is a grammatical form.

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    Forming Noun Clauses from Questions

    Next explain the formation of noun clauses from questions. First explain that the only subordinating conjunctions that can introduce noun clauses formed from questions are if, whether, and wh- words. Then explain the basic patterns for forming noun clauses from questions.

    1. If the question begins with the copular verb be, move the verb to after the subject and insert either if or whether before the subject. For example:

    • Are you a teacher? → if/whether [are] you are a teacher
    • if you are a teacher
    • whether you are a teacher

    • Were your grandparents German? → if/whether [were] your grandparents were German
    • if your grandparents were German
    • whether your grandparents were German

    2. If the question contains a do operator, simply replace the do operator with if or whether and conjugate the verb to agree with the number and person of the subject. For example:

    • Does the puppy eat vegetables? → if/whether [does] the puppy eats vegetables
    • if the puppy eats vegetables
    • whether the puppy eats vegetables

    • Do the children like kumquats? → if/whether [do] the children like kumquats
    • if the children like kumquats
    • whether the children like kumquats

    3. If the question begins with an auxiliary verb other than the do operator, move the initial auxiliary verb to after the subject and insert either if or whether before the subject. For example:

    • Are you going to the movies? → if/whether [are] you are going to the movies
    • if you are going to the movies
    • whether you are going to the movies

    • Have the neighbors been behaving? → if/whether [have] the neighbors have been behaving
    • if the neighbors have been behaving
    • whether the neighbors have been behaving

    4. If the question begins with a wh- question word and the copular verb be, move the verb to after the subject. For example:

    • What is your favorite color? → what [is] your favorite color is
    • what your favorite color is

    • How are your parents? → how [are] your parents are
    • how your parents are

    5. If the question begins with a wh- question word and contains a do operator, remove the do operator and conjugate the verb to agree with the number and person of the subject. For example:

    • How does she want her steak cooked? → how [does] she wants her steak cooked
    • how she wants her steak cooked

    • Where did your brothers go to college? → where [did] your brothers went to college
    • where your brothers went to college

    6. If the question begins with a wh- question word and begins with an auxiliary verb other than the do operator, move the initial auxiliary verb to after the subject. For example:

    • Why has your uncle travelled to Europe? → why [has] your uncle has travelled to Europe
    • why your uncle has traveled to Europe

    • Who have the students been reading about? → who [have] the students have been reading about
    • who the students have been reading about

    Note that when the subject of the question is who, then the question and the noun clause are identical as in Who ate the cake? and who ate the cake.

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    Using Noun Clauses from Questions

    Finally explain the use of noun clauses from questions. Noun clauses formed from questions are used to embed questions into the grammatical structure of the main clause, most frequently as a direct object or preposition complement. For example:

    • Ask the children. + Did they like the book?
    • Ask the children if they liked the book. (correct)
    • *Ask the children did they like the book. (incorrect)

    • The teacher explained. + What is the assignment?
    • The teacher explained what the assignment is. (correct)
    • *The teacher explained what is the assignment. (incorrect)

    • Your mom asked me. + What were you wearing?
    • Your mom asked me what you were wearing. (correct)
    • Your mom asked me about what you were wearing. (correct)
    • *Your mom asked me what were you wearing. (incorrect)

    • Do you know? + Where does she live?
    • Do you know where she lives? (correct)
    • *Do you know where does she live? (incorrect)

    Using noun clauses formed from questions allows English speakers and writers to combine a question with a statement, another question, or a command to form a single sentence.

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    Practice Noun Clause Worksheets

    For a printable study sheet of the basic patterns for forming noun clauses from questions, please download the Basic Patterns for Forming Noun Clauses from Questions supplement.

    For a printable worksheet contains practice exercises for practicing identifying, forming, and using noun clauses within the context of English language sentences, please download the Noun Clause Worksheets: Forming Noun Clauses from Questions worksheet.