Updated: Sep 15, 2022
- cleft = divided
- they are used to emphasise particular words and expressions
- it is done by putting everything into a special relative clause except the words we want to emphasize
- it is useful in writing to add emphasis instead of intonation which cannot be used in a written form
a. emphasising nouns: What I need is …
Nick bought Ferrari. -> What Nick bought was Ferrari.
Ferrari was what Nick bought.
They want some extra tasks. -> What they want is/are some extra tasks. –
When we use this cleft sentence, we use a singular verb, but in an informal
style it is also possible to use a plural verb.
I am cooking a pheasant. What I am cooking is a pheasant. A pheasant is
what I am cooking.
b. emphasising verbs: What I did was …
Ema and Charles made a fortune by investing. -> What Ema and Charles did
was (to) make a fortune by investing.
What Ema and Charles did, they made a fortune by investing. (subject + verb
instead of an infinitive is used in an informal style)
2 It is/was … who/that
- a preparatory it is used and to join the emphasised words to the cleft sentence we
use that (or who if a personal subject is stressed).
My neighbour killed that woman living across the street. -> It was my neighbour who
killed that woman living across the street.
Nick bought Ferrari. -> It was Nick who bought Ferrari.
It was Miss Novakova that complained about the noise. (Only she complained, not
It was two days ago that I won in the lottery. (not another day)
3 All (that) … / the…thing
All I want is silence.
All (that) I did was (to) call him.
All you need is love.
The only thing you need is love.
The first thing I will do is to have a shower.
4 The place where …, the day when …, the person who/that …, the reason why …, the thing
- these expressions emphasize different information:
Nick bought Ferrari. -> Nick was the person who bought Ferrari.
Nick bought Ferrari on holiday in Rome. -> The place where Nick bought his Ferrari on
holiday in Rome.
5 Other expressions:
It was not until I met you that I felt whole.
I was only when I heard the news that I started to cry.
This/That replacing emphasised here and there: This is where you wait for me. (You wait for me here.) That was where I was born. (There’s where I was born.)