I was thinking of a noun clause in which the relative pronoun 'that' can be the subject of the clause. I couldn't think of one. I found this website in which a lot of examples are made when a 'that clause' is a noun clause.

What I don't understand is the function of 'that' in aforementioned that-clauses! For example the relative pronoun 'who' in

'I know who did it'

is the subject and in

'I know who you should meet'

is the object. What's the function of 'that', let's say, in

'I know that he's a fraud'

If it's the subject of the clause, then what is 'he'?

Another example would be

That he's a fraud scares me!


2 Answers 2


The thats in your last two sentences are in contemporary grammars called complementizers or subuordinators—what traditional grammar calls subordinating conjunctions. They mark the clauses which follow as subordinate to their matrix clauses and as complements of the verbs in their matrix clauses.

You may see that acting as a relativizer in these sentences:

The man that I saw was taller than John.
Bob took the sandwich that I made for you, but I'll make you another.

And that acts as a subject relativizer in these sentences:

The man that shouted at me was taller than John.
Bob took the sandwich that was intended for you, but I'll make you another.

Note, however, that there is a school of contemporary linguistic thought which denies that that is a relativizer in these uses: Huddleston & Pullum (CGEL, 3.5.6, 1056-7), for instance, maintain that it is merely a subordinator. I cannot agree; I think their arguments are dubious and vitiated by a lack of historical awareness; but I can't pretend to the authority of these deservedly eminent grammarians.

  • Thank you +1. Then in noun clauses it's neither a subject nor an object; it's a complementizer or subordinator. BTW 'he' is the subject of the clause and 'that' is simply a clause marker, right?
    – Yuri
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 21:13
  • 1
    @Yuri "Simply a clause marker" is H&P, not me. My position is that neither a wh- relativizer nor a that relativizer is a subject or object: they are direct signals to expect a missing subject or object and positional pointers to the 'value' with which the missing constituent may be replaced. Commented May 29, 2017 at 22:00
  • My soul is refreshed by the sheer reasonableness of this answer.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 23:39

Forgive my non-technical language, probably incorrect, and mostly likely triangular answer: You're the subject (I) The object of know (what you're knowing) is not just a guy and not just a fraud, it's the entirety of "he's a fraud" -- a fact! In the other examples, "that" isn't always needed -- "The man that I saw was taller than John." also works as "The man I saw was taller than John."

  • Thank you for the effort though here I mean at clause level not at sentence level. Yes you're right that the whole that-clause is the object of know but we're talking about the inside of the clause that he's a fraud. What's that there?
    – Yuri
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 6:17

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