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Unit 42. What I don't Understand is How It Got There!

Cleft Sentences

Unit 42; Part A

A cleft sentence is divided into two parts, allowing us to focus particular attention on information in one part of the sentence. Cleft sentences are common in speech. In these examples the focus is on 'my gold necklace':
            What I lost was my gold necklace.

A what- cleft (sometimes called a pseudo-cleft) has what + subject + verb in the first clause followed by be + the focus.

            It was my gold necklace that I lost.

An it- cleft has it + be + the focus in the first clause and is followed by a relative (that or who) clause.

Unit 42; Part B

What- clefts typically have a fall-rising tone at the end of the what- clause and a falling tone in the other part of the sentence. Remember that the tone begins on the last prominent syllable of the speech unit:
         A: I can't get the chain back on my bike.
         B: WHAT you need to DO ↓↑ is take the WHEEL off .

         I hadn't seen Don since he went to Australia ...
         ... and what surPRISED me about him ↓↑ was his ACcent .

         I know there's a pool of water in the kitchen, but ...
         ... what I DON'T understand ↓↑ is how it GOT there .

Notice that the order of information in the cleft sentence can often be reversed, but that the two parts keep the same tone:

         I know there's a pool of water in the kitchen, but ...
         ... how it GOT there
is what I DON'T understand ↓↑.

We can use all instead of what if we want to emphasise that only one thing is done:

         A: Paul hasn't spoken t me since I scratched his car.
         B: ALL you've got to SAY ↓↑ is that you're SORry

Unit 42; Part C

It- clefts typically have a falling tone in the clause beginning with it. Tone choice in the relative clause depends on meaning in context (see Unit 39):
           A: Pity about the flowers. They must have been eaten by snails.
           B: It was the FROST that KILLED them ↓↑.
- this information is not 'news'

           I thought the science exam would be hard ...
           ... but it was the MATHS that I found DIFficult ↓↑.
- this information is not 'news'

           She walked into a clearing in the forest ...
           ... and it was THEN that she SAW him .
- this information is 'news'

           I went over to Karen's house ...
           ... but it was her FAther who ANswered the DOOR .
- this information is 'news'



flag.jpgListen to each A part. Press 'pause' before each B part and read it aloud using the intonation marked. Then press 'play' again and compare your pronunciation with what follows.
Key.(Speaker A = Northern Ireland)
The last prominent syllable in each question, where the falling or rising tone starts, is in capital letters.
5 What you should DO ↓↑ is write and comPLAIN ↓
6 What we WANT ↓↑ is some RAIN ↓.
7 All they had LEFT ↓↑ were these SAUSages ↓.
8 All I can SEE ↓↑ is a block of FLATS ↓.

1    A: Do you want some tea?
      B: What I'd REAlly like ↓↑ is a GLASS of WAter .
2    A: I see your neighbours keep goats.
      B: What I obJECT to ↓↑ is the AWful SMELL .
3    A: What's for breakfast?
      B: What I USually have ↓↑ is COFfee and TOAST .
4    A: What are you having for your birthday?
      B: What I'm HOPing for ↓↑ is a NEW comPUter .

Now do the same with these. Before you answer, think about where the fall-rising and falling tones start.

5    A: My train to work was late yet again.
      B: What you should do is write and complain.
6    A: All the plants in my garden are dying.
      B: What we want is some rain.
7    A: What did you get from the butcher's?
      B: All they had left were these sausages.
8    A: What's the view like from your bedroom window?
      B: All I can see is a block of flats.
flag.jpgGive the answers in exercise 1 again. This time, however, reverse the order of the information. The first two answers are given with intonation marked.
         1    A: Do you want some tea?
               B: A GLASS of WAter is what I'd REAlly like ↓↑.
         2    A: I see your neighbours keep goats.
               B: The AWful SMELL is what I obJECT to ↓↑.
flag.jpgExpand the notes to make it- cleft responses. Then draw a falling tone in the clause beginning with it and then either a falling or fall-rising tone, as appropriate, in the relative clause.

Now listen and check your answers. Then listen again and repeat the B parts.

Follow up:  Make a conscious efort to use what- clefts and it- clefts in your speech, especially in informal contexts. Perhaps you could even plan ahead to use some in a particular conversation.

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