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I read this following sentences on a newspaper and I cannot understand the second sentence's structure.

He added: 'We have all had moments where a smell can take you back somewhere in time. That the victim could identify this smell provided us with another piece in the puzzle.'

What I see is that a sentence, "the victim could identify this smell", is used as a subject of another sentence. For me it sounds wrong and it should be noun phrase. For example it could have been:

The victim's identification of the smell provided us with another piece in the puzzle.

or there could have been a "so that it"

the victim could identify this smell so that it provided us with another piece in the puzzle.

  • Well, this is a correct construction. I'm not sure how to justify it, though. – Obie 2.0 Oct 20 '15 at 22:42
  • I love questions like this, because they force me to think about sentences that are plainly right, but why they are right isn't immediately obvious. – Damien H Oct 20 '15 at 22:49
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The that which introduces the first clause is technically called a "complementizer": it instructs the hearer/reader to understand what follows as a subordinate clause playing the role of a noun phrase with respect to the verb in the main clause.

In this case the NP acts as Subject of the verb provided. You may be more familiar with uses of that to mark Objects of the verb, such as

The police learned [that the victim could identify this smell].
The police said [that the victim could identify this smell].

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    Thanks, I understand.what do you think of my second sentence? we can omit "so" , if it makes sense, in this case is it still complement clause ? – ELL Oct 21 '15 at 1:05
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    @ELL No. With "this smell that provided &c" that would be taken as a relative pronoun signalling that what follows should be interpreted with its referent smell filling the subject 'gap'. That's a different meaning: it's not the identification but the smell which provides the piece. – StoneyB Oct 21 '15 at 9:49
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To add to StoneyB's answer (which is exactly right), I'd like to add a tip showing how you can informally understand the construction. Let's start with a direct, standard way to under this that-clause:

  1. [ That the victim could identify this smell ] provided us with another piece in the puzzle.

Now, let's consider other possibilities. Your attempt to paraphrase the sentence with identification or so doesn't really work. The former changes the meaning. The latter even sounds wrong. Here is a better paraphrase. It keeps the original meaning, though it doesn't sound as good as the original:

  1. What provided us with another piece in the puzzle was that the victim could identify this smell.

We can understand this paraphrase like this: Something provided us (with another piece in the puzzle). What was it? It was that the victim could identify this smell (that provided us with that).

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    ok I gave up on trying to change that-noun clause as a subject sentences.how about this example : The baby was making too much noise that I could not sleep.I think " the baby was making too much noise" is noun-clause but it is not subject.Could you parse this sentence please.It sounds like I could not sleep because the baby was making too much noise..this time that noun-clause may be a kind of complement or predicate? – ELL Oct 21 '15 at 2:54
  • @ELL That deserves its own question. Also, you may want to check first whether or not your sentence is well-formed. Hint: so/such ... that, too/enough ... to. – Damkerng T. Oct 21 '15 at 8:56

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