cleft sentence

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hyperslow

Senior Member
Polish
Hello there!

For the sake of practice I've tried to transform a sentence in order to give an emphasis to different words in it. What I've noticed is that not every transformation seems to express the emphasis.

Base sentence: I met her in December for the first time.

1. It was she whom I met for the first time in December.
2. It was December that I met her for the first time. December was the month I met her for the first time.
3. Whom I met in December was her.
4. She was the one I met in December for the first time.
5. It was for the first time that I met her in December.


Number three looks dreadful even to me. Do you think they express the emphasis and what is more are they likely to be uttered.
Thank you.
hyp
 
  • kayokid

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Hello. My personal opinion follows.

    General comment:
    This is all fine for the sake of grammatical practice. Nobody talks this way (at least in AmE).
    Specifics:
    (1) sounds very formal.
    (2) It was in December... "December was the month ..." sounds really awkward.
    (3) You're right. It sounds awful.
    (4) 'She' is strongly emphasized. Sounds okay.
    (5) Awkward. Maybe: The first time that I met her was in December.

    Wait for other opinions.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Hullo Hyper. My comments are exactly as Kayokid's except:

    (2) Both sound weird/awkward.
    (3) Sounds like Yoda out of Star Wars.
    (4) I can only imagine this being said in reply to the question Which one is she? ... and even then it still sounds awkward.
    (5) Doesn't make sense to me.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    If you're trying to make a cleft sentence, 1) is fine but 2) needs the "in December". Cleft sentences start with "It" + <be> so 3 and 4 are not right in any case and correcting them would make them the same as 1). I don't think it makes any sense to have "for the first time" as the emphasized thing in the sentence.
     

    hyperslow

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Right enough.
    Let's sum it up.

    Base sentence: I met her in December for the first time.

    1. It was in December that I met her for the first time.
    2. It was she whom I met for the first time in December. ---> How to make it informal?
    3. How to emphasise 'the first time'? ---> The first time I met her was in December.??? Is this the emphasis?

    Thank you.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The task is large: you're mixing several methods. There's fronting, where an element is just moved; there's the it-cleft, which is it + be + focus + relative clause; and there's the wh-cleft, which is fused relative + be + focus:

    Her I met in December for the first time.
    It was in December that I met her for the first time.
    When I met her for the first time was in December.

    I would have liked to emphasize the same element for each of the three types, but fronting 'in December' doesn't emphasize it, and fused relatives can't use who :)cross:Who I met in December was her.) So there's a table of emphasis strategies x emphasized elements, and some of the cells don't work.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Not to mention that 'emphasis' is the wrong word for a variety of effects. There's contrastive emphasis (Her I met in December, but him I haven't met yet), which is often done with just accentuation (Well I met her in December); and there's setting an element as topic or focus or background* (In December I met her, and in January I asked her to marry me). These can be combined (and on 29 February she asked me to marry her).

    * or foreground - terminology gets too confusing for me here
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Here is my take on the original sentences:

    1. It was she whom I met for the first time in December. Sounds formal, and looks just like a non-cleft sentence.
    Another version:
    It was her (that) I met for the first time. Informal sounding, but more clearly a cleft sentence.

    2a. It was in December that I met her for the first time. OK, with the addition of in.
    Another version:
    It was December when I met her for the first time. OK, but looks just like a non-cleft sentence.

    2b. December was the month I met her for the first time. OK, but not a cleft or pseudo cleft sentence.

    3. Whom I met in December was her. Very old fashioned pseudo cleft sentence.
    Better but almost a non-cleft sentence:
    The girl/woman/lady I met in December was her/she. Informal with her, hyperformal with she.

    4. She was the one I met in December for the first time. OK, but not a cleft or pseudo cleft sentence.

    5. It was for the first time that I met her in December. OK.
     

    loviii

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Here is my take on the original sentences:

    1. It was she whom I met for the first time in December. Sounds formal, and looks just like a non-cleft sentence.
    Another version:
    It was her (that) I met for the first time. Informal sounding, but more clearly a cleft sentence.
    As I understood, your position is:
    It was she who I met for the first time. – a non-cleft sentence
    It was she (that) I met for the first time. – a non-cleft sentence (it sounds informal)
    It was her who I met for the first time. – a non-cleft sentence
    It was her (that) I met for the first time. – a cleft sentence (it sounds informal)

    Will I be right if I write the same when we move out a subject from a relative clause to form the it-cleft sentence?:
    It was I who ate the last banana. – a non-cleft sentence
    It was I that ate the last banana. – a cleft sentence (it sounds informal)
    It was me who ate the last banana. – a non-cleft sentence
    It was me that ate the last banana. – a non-cleft sentence (it sounds informal)
    (This example about a banana is taken from your post from another thread.)

    Thanks!
     
    Last edited:

    Forero

    Senior Member
    All of these sentences can be cleft sentences, and be spoken out loud as cleft sentences. In a cleft sentence, the final clause adds meaning to the subject "it".

    A minor problem with these particular examples is that they have the same form in writing as non-cleft sentences, with each relative clause modifying the immediately preceding pronoun and the subject "it" referring to something else, probably something mentioned in a previous sentence.

    Consider the following sentence:

    It is I who am speaking to you.

    Notice that "I" is used instead of "me", "am" is first person and agrees with "I", and "who" is obviously a subject relative pronoun. These are all signals that the "who" clause is a relative clause modifying "I". This sentence can still be read as a cleft sentence, but it is less obviously cleft than the following:

    It's me that's talking to you.

    This is informal language, and it is actually the formally prescriptive version of this cleft sentence, the "It is I" version just mentioned, that is less clear in terms of meaning and proper intonation.

    Whom is formal, who is less so as an object relative pronoun but more formal as a subject relative pronoun than that, and a that that can be omitted is the least formal as a relative pronoun and the most common subordinator in a cleft sentence. Notice that that does not even have to be a pronoun.

    The sentence "It was I who ate the last banana" is just a little easier to take as a cleft sentence than the sentence with "am", because "ate" might be a third-person verb, but everything else I have said applies here too.

    The sentence "I met her in December for the first time" has four elements that can be brought forward in an "it"-cleft sentence: the subject of "met", the direct object of "met", the "for" prepositional phrase, and the "in" prepositional phrase:

    It was me that met her in December for the first time.
    It was her that I met for the first time in December.
    It was for the first time that I met her in December.
    It was in December that I met her for the first time.


    The first two of the four have that relative clause issue, and the last one does not. The third is interesting in that it has the right form but the prepositional phrase itself seems to change its meaning when removed from its place after "met" (not to mention the fact that "time that" might be taken to mean "occasion on which"). Had I planned that first meeting? Had I met her in other months before that first December rendezvous?
     
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