If subordinate clauses can be placed before or after the main clause as follows:

They hid because I came.

Because I came, they hid.

Why isn't the same true for relative clauses?

They are types of subordinate clauses.

One never hears *"That the song is upbeat I love" as an alternative to "I love that the song is upbeat." At least, I never have.

Was it used at one time? Is it used now, albeit rarely?

On a side note, do any other Indo-European languages have this limitation?

  • In case you're interested, not all IE languages have this limitation. Spanish, for one, doesn't: "me encanta que la canción sea animada" (lit. I love that the song is upbeat) and "que la canción sea animada me encanta" (lit. that the song is upbeat I love) are both perfectly grammatical and sound perfectly natural in context. I wouldn't be suprised to hear other IE languages allow such swappings too.
    – Yay
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 22:25
  • @Yay, indeed. I think Spanish's subjunctive mood lets it get away with many constructs like that. Wouldn't you say? Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 22:39
  • It helps, but it isn't strictly necessary. In "que se trata de algo único es indudable" (lit. that this is something unique is undeniable) and "es indudable que se trata de algo único" (lit. is undeniable that this is something unique), there's no subjunctive. In the second case you would resolve the ungrammaticality in English by adding a dummy "it", though.
    – Yay
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 22:56

2 Answers 2


A partial answer to your question is that the subordinate clauses which can be moved to the front are sentence-modifying adverbials, and other sentence-modifying adverbs, like "necessarily" or "frankly", can also be moved to the front. So this is what you'd expect.

On the other hand, restrictive relative clauses are not adverbs and do not modify sentences, but are instead noun modifiers, like adjectives. So, since you don't generally expect adjectives to move to the beginning of a sentence, you shouldn't expect restrictive relative clauses to, either.

Your example is from "I love that the song is upbeat," and has a sentence complement that-clause, which is not a modifier.

This is not a full explanation, because it doesn't cover other sorts of relative clauses.

  • 1
    +1 Off the top of my head, I can't think of any type of RC which could appear left of the phrase/clause it was modifying. So on that basis your answer does kind of apply to all RCs I suppose. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 21:53

Love is usually an action verb followed by a direct object. Clauses can be direct objects, funnily enough; they can function like a direct object. Ergo, you can't move the direct object "any old way" can you? If you substitute a more easily recognizable direct object such as in: He loves the trees, the direct objectness of the structure becomes obvious. Likewise, it becomes obvious that you can't say:

/The trees, he loves/

except under certain rhetorical or poetical situations. So, to sum up, I'd say the direct object function is a primary grammatical function and it trumps the fact the direct object happens to be a clause.

  • thank you for your answer! I think yours complements Greg Lee's perfectly by explaining why the object of "love" is not a restrictive clause. However, Greg's does answer the main question, so I believe he deserves the coveted check mark. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 22:25
  • Well, I disagree because the verb controls what comes after it. Just because it has the form of a relative clause doesn't mean that in the sentence overall it is. Compare: The book that she read was the one on the top shelf. That is a real subordinate clause. And not: I love that the book is on the top shelf.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 22:32
  • Relative. I meant relative. Sorry, autocorrect got me there. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 22:35

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