English Grammar

Cleft sentences in grammar with examples

Cleft sentences

There are several ways to add emphasis to a part of speech in English, by changing the order of the words. The so-called Cleft Sentences is one of them, they serve to emphasize what we are saying.

A cleft sentence is a sentence in which some part of it is moved from its normal position to a different place to give it more emphasis . The word “cleft” means cleft or break and conveys the idea of ​​dividing in two.

This meaning is very convenient because this type of sentence is divided or “split” into two clauses . In which each clause has its own verb. These phrases help us focus on a certain part of the statement and thus highlight what we want to say.

It is common to use “split sentences” to connect what is already understood with what is new to the listener . Focusing precisely on new information. Although they can be used in both written and spoken English, they are more common in written English . The reason is that, in the latter case, we lack the resource of intonation to achieve emphasis.

This is an example of a simple cleft sentence so that you understand what we are talking about:

  • Alex drank the soda à It was Alex who drank the soda .

Types of Cleft Sentences

There are different types of Cleft Sentences, but the most common are “It” sentences and “Wh” sentences . In this article we will focus on explaining these two kinds of split phrase patterns.

Cleft sentences with “It”

The basic structure of an IT cleft sentence is the following:

It + verb “to be” + subject, object, etc. + + relative clause that / who


  • It was the girls who started to danced .
  • It is rain that cancels the event .
  • It is the president that I want to thank .
  • It was your sister who taught you to paint .

You can also use other pronouns instead of “It” to make the split sentences:

  • Those are my pencils that you broke .
  • That is my book that you borrowed .
  • There is the computer that he wants to purchase .

Split sentences to enter new information

Split sentences can also be used to introduce new information into a conversation .


  • You met my friend , Ana, didn’t you?
  • No, it was Linda who I met.

In the second sentence, the focus is on the new information, that is, Linda. While the information that the listener already understood (I met your friend) is placed at the end.

  • Erick phoned me yesterday from Paris.
  • No, it was from London that he phoned.

The emphasis is on “London” because it is the new information. But the known information “I have phoned me”, is scrolled towards the end.

  • You came on Tuesday, didn’t you?
  • It was Monday that I came.

The emphasis is on “Monday” and the known information is now placed last.

Use of “that” in “cleft sentences”

In informal situations, we usually omit the word “that” in the split sentence.


  • It was Linda that I met.
  • It was from London that he phoned me.
  • It was Monday that I came.

Negative sentences

Negative sentences of cleft sentences can also be formed with “It”. On this occasion, we place the negation in the verb “to be”, as shown below. Cleft sentences in grammar with illustrations


  • It wasn’t Ana that I met.
  • It was not from Paris thaT he phoned me.
  • It wasn’t Monday that I came.
  • That is not the computer that he wanted to purchase.
  • This was not my books you borrowed.

Cleft sentences with “Wh”

Also called “pseudo cleft sentences” . In these sentences, the emphasis is usually placed at the end of the sentenceThey begin with the words “Wh”, such as: What, Where, Why or the expressions: “the thing”, “one thing”, “something”.

The basic structure of this type of split sentence is:

What clause + verb to be + emphasized phrase or word.

In this type of sentence, the known information is at the beginning and not at the end. While the new information is located at the end of the sentence.


  • What does she needs ? à What she needs is something to drink .

The second sentence is about the pseudo cleft sentence. As you can see, the new information is ” She needs something to drink ” and we find it at the end of the sentence.

  • What do you want ? à The one thing I want is to rest .
  • What does he want for Christmas ? à All he wants for Christmas is to be with his wife .

More examples of split sentences:

  • What I need now is a glass of water .
  • What’s really important to him is his wife .
  • The one thing she loves the most is red wine .
  • All he was trying to do was earn her respect .

Modal verbs in cleft sentences

The modal verbs can also be used in cloven sentences to emphasize the phrase.


  • It might be your phone that I hear ringing.
  • It must have been your father who taught you how to drive.
  • What you need now might be a warm bath.
  • It could have been Ana that you met. Cleft sentences in grammar with illustrations
  • What’s really important to you should be your family.

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