We can express all the information within one sentence, or alternatively we can divide the sentence into several parts, clefts, each of them having its own predicate:
Mark has sold all his stock and shares recently. (single clause, one predicate)
It was Mark who has sold all his stock and shares recently (two clauses, two predicates)
The reason why we need cleft sentences is to emphasize the information stated in the sentence, to oppose the two parts of the sentence or to give an explanation:
Everyone in the family preferred not to withdraw the money from their investment accounts as they didn’t believe in a stock market crash. It was Mark who had sold all his stocks and shares.
An it-cleft sentence has the following structure:
it + a form of the verb to be + emphasized word or phrase + that/ wh-clause
We can put an emphasis on the following:
It was David who saved Jess from drowning in the lake last week.
It was Jess who David saved from drowning in the lake last week.
- adverbial phrase
It was last week when (that) David saved Jess from drowning in the lake.
We can’t use the conjunctions why, what or how in this type of sentences:
It was jealousy why she killed him. It was because of jealousy that she killed him. It was the color of her dress what was so striking. It was the color of her dress that was so striking. It is by using a drone how he shoots his videos. It is by using his drone that he shoots his videos.
If the style is very formal, we can invert the order and place the emphasized word or phrase before the it-cleft:
And thus Clarice it was who helped Dr. Lecter flee from the country.
Another example of a formal cleft sentence is the following:
Following its third stage of testing, a drug is deemed reasonably effective. And it is this that gives the drug an opportunity to be approved by the FDA.
When an action is to be emphasized, we can use the following type of a cleft-sentence:
a wh-clause + a form of the verb to be + emphasized verb or phrase
What Sheila did was buy a plane ticket for the next flight to Sri Lanka.
What the girls are doing is sewing a doll for their home-staged puppet theater.
What the movers have done is break down the entrance door with a sofa.
Sometimes we can change the word order in this structure and place the emphasized word or phrase at the beginning of the sentence:
She said that she was almost there. Staying at home and choosing a bag matching her dress was what she was really doing.
Other types of cleft sentences include relative clauses. We can emphasize:
- a person
The woman who was sitting next to you at the pub was Jack’s ex-wife.
- a place
The abandoned mansion, which has recently been restored and transformed into a museum, is the place where we used to play when we were kids.
- a time
The moment when she closed the door behind her was the hardest in her life.
- a reason
The reason why she rented a cabin in the woods was her genuine desire to be left alone for several days.
A noun phrase or a verb phrase can be emphasized by such words as: the (only/last) thing/person, something or all:
The last thing that I wanted to hear from you was that we had run out of gas.
The only thing she never told me was that she was horribly afraid of spiders.
The thing I really liked about the hotel where we stayed was that they always served lots of fish dishes.
Something she forgot to mention to the police was that she hadn’t actually heard him entering the house.
All I am trying to do is (to)collect some money for an animal shelter.
The only person who didn’t turn his back on me was our secretary Pam.