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‘Cleft’ means divided. In a cleft sentence, the information which could be given in one clause is divided into two parts, each with its own verb:

e.g. Vanessa has made the greatest impact (normal sentence: single clause, one verb) → It is Vanessawho has made the greatest impact. (cleft sentence: two clauses, two verbs)


This gives extra emphasis to part of the sentence. We often use this pattern:

a) to emphasize some piece of new information;

b) to give explanation;

c) to make a contrast with a previous statement.

e.g. All of the Redgrave family are gifted actors. But it is Vanessa who made the greatest impact in the world of feature films.

e.g. “I remember your uncle taking us to the fair.” “No, it was my father that took us there.”


1. We can use it + be + a relative clause to give emphasis:

· it is/ was (not) + subject/ object + thator who(m) in statements/ negations

· is/ was it + subject/ object + thator who(m)in questions.

If the object is a person, we use that, who or whom, otherwise that is the correct form:

e.g. It was the headmaster that/who organized the school bazaar.

e.g. It is me that/who you’re talking to, so don’t lie.

e.g. Was it here that you met him? (‘who’ is not possible because ‘here’ is not a person)

e.g. It was TV that woke me up.



Neutral Emphatic
Tom had an accident. The computer gives me a headache. I’m eating chocolate cake. Mike’s uncle died on Thursday. It was Tom who had an accident (not David). It’s the computer that gives me a headache. It’s chocolate cake (that) I’m eating. It was on Thursday that mike’s uncle died.



(!) Apart from emphasizing the subject/ object, the pattern can be used to emphasize anadverbial phraseor a prepositional phrase:


sentence Mike took Sally to the party on Sunday.
the subject It was Mike who took Sally to the party on Sunday.
the object It was Sally(that) Mike took to the party on Sunday.
the adverbial phrase It was on Sunday(that)Mike took Sally to the party.
the prepositional phrase It was to the party(that) Mike took Sally on Sunday.


(!) But we cannot use it-clefts to highlight the action or in a sentence.

We use wh-clause + be + (bare) infinitive + emphasized word/phrase to do this:

e.g. WhatMike did was take Sally to the party.


(Not: It was taking Sally to the party that Mike did)


(!) If the highlighted verb is in the continuous or perfect, the form of do matches it:

E.g. The boys aren’t leaving Sandy at home. They are taking him to the match. → What the boys are doing is taking Sandy to the match.

e.g. Old members are absent but new members have taken their seats in the assembly. → What the new members have done is taken their seats in the assembly.


(!) We can also use wh-clefts to highlight a verb complement to express our opinion of something/somebody:

  wh-clause + be + emphasized complement
e.g. What Jean and Bob are is stingy


2. We can use that is / was + question word in statements or is/ was that + question word in questions in spoken English:

e.g. That is (That’s) what he told the police.

e.g. That was how he became a successful businessman.

e.g. Is that where he’s living now?

e.g. Was that why he resigned?


3. We can also use question word + is/ was it + that in questions:

e.g. Where is it that you’re planning to go?

e.g. Who was it that sent those flowers?

e.g. When was it thatyou realized you were being followed?


4. We can use question word + subject + verb + is/ was:

e.g. What I need is some good advice. What I don’t need is criticism.


5. We can emphasize an item (described by a noun phrase or a verb phrase) with the (only/last) thing or all + (not) be + emphasized item

e.g. The thing I most dislike about the movie was the scene in the graveyard.

e.g. The only thing we want is a chance to air our grievances.

e.g. The last thing we did was pack the kettle.

e.g. All we’re asking for is to be given a chance.

e.g. The thing we won’t do is repair goods bought in other shops.

e.g. The only thing we didn’t find was they key to the cellar.


6. We can reverse the order of the parts in wh- clefts and put the emphasized part at the beginning:

e.g. Taking Sandy to the match is what the boys are doing.

e.g. Zac is the guy who told me about the new club.



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