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What is a pseudo-cleft sentence?

by Kent Spielmann (contributor)


A pseudo-cleft sentence is a kind of cleft sentence in which the subordinated clause is a relative clause headed by an interrogative pro-form. In English they are of the form:

  • wh-relative clause + be + X

    X can be a constituent of one of many varieties.


    The so-called 'inverted' pseudo-cleft sentence reverses the order of the two constituents:

  • X + be + wh-relative clause
  • Examples
    Pseudo-cleft Inverted pseudo-cleft
    What John gave to Mary were flowers Flowers were what John gave to Mary.
      A pseudo-cleft sentence is a kind of

    Crystal 1980 63


    Levinson 1983 182–183


    Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartvik 1985 1383–1384


    Sornicola 1988 343–344


    Bromser 1984 327


    Jespersen 1949 147–148


    Delahunty 1984 74–88

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