Can I call the following a clause?

The way we are learning English is not good.

Here, what kind of clause is "The way we are learning English"

I think it's a noun clause because it sits before the auxiliary "is" here. Am I right? If I am correct what is "The way" in that clause?


3 Answers 3


It is a noun phrase, and the subject of the sentence. It is not a clause, but it contains one.

The noun phrase has a noun "the way" and a relative clause; "we are learning English" is the relative clause, it describes the noun "way". You could also write "The way that we are learning English".

The word "is" is the main verb (not an auxiliary) and "not good" is an adjective and the complement of the subject.

  • The AdjP "not good" is complement of the verb "be", not of the subject, although it does of course refer to the latter.
    – BillJ
    Jun 7, 2018 at 14:38
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    It's a subject complement that complements the subject of the sentence by describing it.
    – James K
    Jun 7, 2018 at 14:48
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    @James No: it doesn't complement the subject, but simply refers to it, which is why it's called a subjective PC. The crucial point is that it's not an obligatory item in the subject NP, but an obligatory dependent of the verb, and hence a complement of the latter. Further, it qualifies as a complement of the verb because it has to be licensed by a particular type of verb, e.g., “be, seem, become”. In other words, it plays no syntactic role in the subject NP, but does so entirely in the VP. Complement is a syntactic function, not a semantic concept.
    – BillJ
    Jun 7, 2018 at 18:05
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    @BillJ You certainly know more about grammar than I, so I am not holding myself up as an expert. Every article that I look up on the internet says that it is the subject that is complemented, because the subject is renamed or defined, and the verb is completed as the VP requires is unable to stand by itself. It is quite possible that I am misreading them, in which case my apologies for continuing this discussion. Can you please direct me to any references that say the opposite, as I would like to understand this better. I will add references in the next comment.
    – James
    Jun 7, 2018 at 20:08
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    Arguing about what's officially called a "complement" and what's not is pointless. As @JamesK pointed out, the chunk in question is a complex noun phrase, composed of an antecedent noun phrase the way and a relative clause modifying it. Relative clauses are much easier to talk about than abstract definitions. Though this chunk, to answer the original question, is not a clause, though it contains a clause. Jun 7, 2018 at 21:49

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Here is a simplified tree of the OP's sentence, which clearly shows that syntactically the complement "not good" belongs in the predicate VP, not the subject NP. The complement is required to complete the verb phrase and hence is complement of the verb.


It should be noted that:

The way we are learning English is not good.

is a full sentence, even if it can also function as a clause. It is not usual to describe a full entence as a clause unless it has been included as part of a large sentence, even when it fits the grammatical definition of a clause.

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