cleft sentences

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irene_

New Member
Spanish
In these three cleft sentences (if any of them is not, please tell me):

-"It’s the only dream you can have"
-"It’s goddam time you heard that!"
-"(Everytime I’ve left) it’s been a fight that sent me out of here"

are the focalised entities topical? Or the 'topic' in all of them is 'it'? (What I have underlined is the focalised entities, isn't it?)

Thanks in advance
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I think that understanding the "focalised entities" as topics makes sense, Irene. The "it" that occupies the subject position is just a grammatical convention. The phrase that comes after the verb is the real subject. The only one that seems doubtful to me is "It's goddamn time you heard that!", but I suppose that "goddamn time" is the subject of that sentence.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I think the second one, with goddam time, is not a cleft sentence.
    The starting "it" is a dummy "it" - like the "it" in "It's getting cold," or "It's almost four o'clock."

    Thinking about the other two.......
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I'm not sure about the first and third sentences.
    Usually it is easy to convert a cleft sentence into its base form, but what is the base form of 1 & 3?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi irene

    For me, only the third of your original three examples is a cleft sentence. It's the only one in which you could put the logical subject back in subject position: Every time I've left, a fight has sent me out of there....
     
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    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    #1 is a cleft sentence too: "You can only have that dream."

    I share Panjandrum's doubts about #2.

    In "What is it that you want from me?" (could be "What do you want from me?" - "You want it from me"/"It is what you want from me" being the non-interrogatory forms), I think the topicalization is more about expanding the "what" to the "what is it." The question puts more emphasis on the speaker's ignorance of "what it is" that you want from me. It's more exasperated and desperate.

    Compare the use of similar sentences in this dialogue:

    - What do you want to do today?
    - Oh, anything.
    - Do you want to go to the movies?
    - Nah.
    - What about having a picnic?
    - Um, maybe not.
    - Well, we could go to the museum.
    - I don't really want to do that.
    - We could go rent boats on the lake.
    - No, I just did that last weekend.
    - (Frustrated now) Well allright then. What is it that you want to do today?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    #1 is a cleft sentence too: "You can only have that dream."
    Hi lucas

    Wouldn't the it-cleft version of "You can only have that dream" be "It's only that dream you can have"?

    For me, in it's the only dream you can have, the "it" relates to something specific, such as "that dream".

    No?:)
     
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    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    Oh yeah, I was offering the base (de-clefted? why do we assume that normal sentences come first and cleft sentences are perversions of "normal" sentences?) form and not the it-cleft form.

    And now I'm obviously thinking about this too much. Is "It's about goddamn time that you heard that!" a cleft sentence? If it is, what's the base form? How does the construction "It's goddamn time you heard that!" come about, anyway?

    I thought first of attempting a base sentence:

    "That you hear this is about goddamn time." Nope.

    Then I tried to build it up from simple sentences:

    "It's time for you to go."
    "It's time for you to hear this."
    "It's time that you go."
    "It's time that you hear this."

    But I have to say that the meaning of "It's goddamn time you heard that!" seems completely divorced from those basal forms. (It must be that the phrase "It's about time!" got grafted onto those expressions through use, thus making a totally new kind of sentence.) It looks and feels like "It's goddamn time that you heard that!" is a cleft sentence, but perhaps it's one that cannot be "returned" to a base form. Would that disprove the general theory of cleft sentences (i.e. that we wanted to express a thought "normally," but then we were obliged by circumstances to twist proper grammar to put the accent on one part of the sentence)?

    I also ought to confess that I find the cleft rules totally silly and ridiculous (if-cleft! pseudo-cleft!). This seems like a case when we should remember what Wittgenstein taught us and admit that our obsession coming up with perfect categories and taxonomies can sometimes keep us from understanding what's going on in language.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Oh yeah, I was offering the base (de-clefted? why do we assume that normal sentences come first and cleft sentences are perversions of "normal" sentences?) form and not the it-cleft form.
    Sorry - I wasn't clear:(.

    What I meant was that, for me, You can only have that dream would be the "base form" of It's only that dream you can have, not of irene's sentence It's the only dream you can have (which to me doesn't have a "base form").

    But I agree 100% that it's possible to overthink this:D:rolleyes:.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I had never heard of cleft sentences until I came across them in this forum.
    They are fascinating things - if you find odd sentence structures fascinating.

    It's the only dream you can have.

    This "referring it" has a genuine antecedent in the preceding text.
    This is not a cleft sentence.

    It’s goddam time you heard that!
    This is a "prop it", of the kind often found in references to weather and time.

    (Everytime I’ve left) it’s been a fight that sent me out of here.
    I'm fairly sure this is a cleft it.
    The uncleft sentence is not dramatically different in order.
    (Every time I've left,) a fight has sent me out of here.
    The cleft sentence is introduced by a cleft it followed by a verb phrase whose main verb is a copular verb, generally be. The focused part comes next, followed by the rest of the sentence introduced by a relative item.
    The analysis is supported by the Oxford English Grammar (4.38) and the quote is from 4.38.3.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    That's exactly how I see irene's original examples, panj....

    As to her other example, "what is it that you want from me?", I'd say that, yes, it's an example of a wh-cleft (sometimes, by some grammarians - and with apologies to lucas;) - called a pseudo-cleft).
     
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