I was surprised that he can fulfill his obligation.

What confused me is the clause, being nominal, unable to modify neither "surprised" nor main clause in this sentence

  • You could very well be blissfully surprised that he was able to fulfil his obligation, thus having modified "surprised" at least. Can you please make you question a little clearer? Why do you think you cannot modify anything here?
    – skymningen
    Nov 25, 2014 at 10:09
  • i think the subordinate clause,a noun clause, is not capable of modifying the adjective component-“surprised"which ought to be modified by a adverbial component.
    – user85432
    Nov 25, 2014 at 12:32
  • The clause "He can fulfil his obligation." can perfectly well stand alone, so in this case is not a subordinate clause, but an independent clause.
    – skymningen
    Nov 25, 2014 at 14:22
  • @skymninge Should i consider this sentence as a compound sentence made up of two independent clauses?if so,how can explain "that"used there.:P
    – user85432
    Nov 25, 2014 at 14:37
  • Consider: "It surprised me [that he can fulfill his obligation]."
    – F.E.
    Nov 26, 2014 at 20:25

2 Answers 2


Let's look at the active voice equivalent of this sentence:

That he can fulfill his obligation surprised me.

In this construction, the nominative clause is the subject of the matrix clause. The verb is transitive. The pronoun is the direct object of the transitive verb. Let's substitute a pronoun for the nominative clause:

Something surprised me.

When we transform this to the passive voice, it looks a little different than your original:

I was surprised by something.

The "by something" is an adverbial prepositional phrase which modifies the passive voice verb. Let's also look at one more sentence:

I was surprised because he can fulfill his obligation.

In this case we have an explicit adverbial clause.

The subordinate clause in your original sentence is nominative in structure, but it's certainly adverbial in use. Is this a strange exception, or are there other nominative constructions that serve adverbial purposes? How about a simple noun?

I was surprised today.

"Today" is a noun. It happens to be a noun that can also serve an adverbial purpose. "That he can fulfill his obligations" is a nominative clause. It happens to be a clause that can also serve an adverbial purpose. Although we can't use every nominative construction in an adverbial capacity, we also can't assume that having a nominative structure prevents an adverbial use.


Think of it this way: "I was surprised [by the fact] that he can fulfil (or rather: could fulfil, or fulfilled) his obligation."

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