Glossary of Linguistic Terms

Cleft Sentence


A cleft sentence is a complex sentence in which a simple sentence is expressed using a main clause and a subordinate clause. In English the prototypical cleft sentence has the following form:

  • it + be + X + subordinate clause

X can be a constituent of one of many varieties.


X and the subordinate clause together carry the same meaning as their corresponding simple sentence. However, the primary focus of the cleft construction is on an element, often marked by intonation, that introduces new information. This element appears either as X or in the subordinate clause.



  • No, it is his callousness that I shall ignore.

Its corresponding simple sentence is No, I shall ignore his callousness. The primary focus of the cleft sentence may be marked by intonation, as in following sentences:

  • No, it is his callousness that I shall ignore.
  • No, it is his callousness that I shall ignore.