A Song with Relative Clauses: #8, Noun Clauses & Adverb Clauses

Song: Stressed Out by 21 Pilots

As you know, songs are often short stories about real life experiences and emotions. As such, songs are an effective way to learn natural, everyday English collocation and usage. Even when the language seems simple and easy to understand, the grammar may be complex. In other words, complex grammar can be easy to understand.  That should make you feel better about learning English! Click on the picture below and watch the amusing youtube video of the song Stressed Out. I’m sure you’ll get the gist (main idea) of the story. Then, read on.

For this post, I’ve chosen the song Stressed Out by the band 21 Pilots to discuss the grammar typically found in songs and everyday English.  I have highlighted some of the lyrics in the following colours:
Relative Clauses – Red,
Noun Clauses – Pink, and
Adverbs/Adverb Clauses – Blue.

Under the lyrics, I will explain some of the grammar.

Stressed Out – 21 Pilots

I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard.
I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words.
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new.
I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang.

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink
But now I’m insecure and I care what people think.
My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think.
My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think.

Chorus
(I) Wish we could turn back time to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.
(I) Wish we could turn back time to the good old
days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.

Don’t be confused by all the grammar terms. We are looking at what makes up a sentence: a sentence must have at least one Independent Clause. If it also has a Dependent Clause, then it is a Complex Sentence. There are only 3 types of Dependent Clauses: Relative (adjective) Clauses, Noun Clauses, and Adverb Clauses.

 CLAUSES

♠ A Clause is a group of words which includes a Finite Verb. All sentences include a Finite Verb and it is the verb closest to the subject. Finite verbs are the following verbs only:

All Present Simple Verbs (positive form):
when I get older … what people think

All Past Simple Verbs (positive form):
when our momma sang us to sleep

All Auxiliary Verbs: am, is, are, was, were, has, have, had, do, does, did:
no-one’s (has) ever heard … I didn’t have to rhyme …

All Modal Verbs: can, could, would, should, may, might, shall, will, must, ought (to):
∗ all my fears would shrink … we could turn back time

∗∗ Note that Modal Verbs are always Auxiliary Verbs.

∗∗ Present Simple and Past Simple Tense Verbs are Finite Verbs in the positive form only. In negative sentences and questions, the auxiliary verb is the Finite Verb. For example,

∗ Some people don’t think … Our momma didn’t sing us to sleep

∗ What do you think? … Did your momma sing you to sleep?

∗∗∗∗ All other verbs are Non-Finite:

1) Infinitives (with ‘to’) & Base Infinitives (without ‘to’), 

2) … ING Participles/Gerunds,

3) Past Participles:

∗ The singer wants to turn back time. Infinitive: to turn

∗ I wish we could turn back time. Base Infinitive: turn

∗ What do you think? Base Infinitive: think

∗ ’21 Pilots’ have been singing some fabulous music lately.
  … ING Participle: singing;  Past Participle: been

Writing music is what they do best. Gerund: writing

Can you see that all verbs in English are either Finite or Non-Finite? Non-Finite Verbs have no tense. They need a Finite Verb to complete them. There are no other verb forms; just those I’ve listed above. Isn’t that good news?!

Have a look at the Peanuts cartoon and text below. (Click on the picture for more cartoons.) It is easy to understand. The language is simple but the grammar is complex. There are two noun clauses – so two subordinating conjunctions. There are two co-ordinating conjunctions. There are three Independent Clauses and two Dependent Clauses. There are five finite verbs and no non-finite verbs. Can you see all this grammar? If you can, it means that you will be able to write lovely complex language! So that you can check, I will write the answers at the bottom of this post.

Now, lets look at the Dependent Clauses in the song:

Relative Clauses

♣ Relative Clauses are just long adjectives. They give information about (relate to) the noun. They are introduced by a Relative Clause Marker: who, that, which, whose, or whom, but these can often be left out. As you can see in the above song lyrics, the singer wishes that he had found some better sounds. What kind of sounds? Sounds that no one’s ever heard. The Relative Clause (that) no one’s ever heard describes the sounds. It’s an adjective. Because it includes a finite verb (has), it’s an adjective clause. It’s a Relative Clause.

He wishes that he had a better voice. What king of voice? A voice that sang some better words. The Relative Clause that sang some better words describes the voice. It’s an adjective. It’s an adjective clause. It’s a Relative Clause.

He wishes that he found some different chords. What kind of chords? … chords (that are) in an order that is new. The Relative Clause in an order that is new describes the chords. It’s an adjective. It’s an adjective clause. It’s a Relative Clause. Because the marker ‘that’ and the BE verb ‘are’ have not been included, we call this a Reduced Relative Clause.

Did you notice that the Relative Clause (that are) in an order that is new is actually two Relative Clauses? That is new describes an order. So there is a Relative Clause inside another Relative Clause!

Adverb Clauses

♠ In the next line, I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang, the singer is not describing anything. He is talking about ‘when’ he sings. The answer to when? is an adverb. … every time I sang is an Adverb. It’s an Adverb Clause.

He wishes that he could turn back time. To when?to the good old days when our momma sang us to sleep. The answer to when? is an adverb. … to the good old days is an Adverb. …when our momma sang us to sleep is an Adverb. It’s an Adverb Clause. … to the good old days when our momma sang us to sleep is an Adverb and Adverb Clause together.

♣ Noun Clauses

♣ In the line, I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard, the Noun Clause, (that) I found some better sounds, is the object of I wish. All the Noun Clauses written above are objects of verbs, mostly of the verb wish. He wishes for a lot of ‘things’, doesn’t he? ‘Things’ are nouns. The ‘things’ include a Finite Verb so the group of words is a Noun Clause.

The Noun Clause marker ‘that’ has been omitted in the ‘I wish … ‘ clauses. ‘That’ is the only Noun Clause marker that can be omitted and it often is. (However, it cannot be omitted when it is part of the subject and begins a sentence.)

All other Noun Clause markers must be included: … now I’m insecure and I care what people think. He wishes for things and he cares about things – nouns. There is a Finite Verb, think, so the group of words with the marker ‘what’ is a Noun Clause: what people think

♦ ♦  Answers to grammar questions

♦ Two noun clauses: 1) what happiness means   2) that it isn’t there
♦ Two subordinating conjunctions: 1) what   2) that

♦ Two co-ordinating conjunctions: 1) but   2) and

♦ Three Independent Clauses: 1) I’m not sure   2) I look in your eyes  
                                                       3) I know**  (I know that it isn’t there)

♦ Two Dependent Clauses: 1) what happiness means   2) that it isn’t there

♦  Five finite verbs: 1) am   2) means   3) look   4) know   5) is

** Because noun clauses are nouns, they can be the subject, object, or complement in a sentence. In the clause  ‘I know that it isn’t there’ the noun clause that it isn’t there is the object of ‘I know’. Even though I believe that the two words ‘I know’ are an Independent Clause, some grammarians might not agree. You can overcome this problem by just including the noun clause in your example of an Independent Clause. So, ‘I know that it isn’t there’ is an Independent Clause with a Dependent Clause inside it. That’s okay! It happens often.

Disagreement about such grammar occurs because of the type of verb. Is the verb ‘know’ transitive or intransitive? Does it sound okay without an object? The verb ‘sure’ is intransitive, so there is no problem with stating ‘I’m not sure’ without the noun clause. However, have a look at the following sentence which includes a noun clause.

Charlie Brown isn’t what Lucy wants.

If we take out the noun clausewhat Lucy wantswe are left with ‘Charlie Brown isn’t’. We can hardly call ‘Charlie Brown isn’t’ an Independent Clause. We need to include the noun clause complement ‘what Lucy wants‘.

For more information about Dependent Clauses, click here.

For practice exercises, click here.

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This entry was posted in Cambridge, Grammar, Intermediate (Level 4), Songs, Upper Intermediate (Level 5) and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Song with Relative Clauses: #8, Noun Clauses & Adverb Clauses

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