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(1)After the surprising Algiers Agreement between Iran and Iraq is reached, the United States stops its support for the Kurdish rebels, which causes the fragmentation of the opposition and an increased vulnerability to Hussein's renewed attacks.

(2)That the United States stops its support for the Kurdish rebels causes the fragmentation of the opposition and an increased vulnerability to Hussein's renewed attacks.

(3)It causes the fragmentation of the opposition and an increased vulnerability to Hussein's renewed attacks that the United States stops its support for the Kurdish rebels

Why are both (2) and (3) unnatural, while (1) is natural?

In PEU Swan writes which can refer not only to a noun, but also to the whole of a previous clause, in this case, the United States stops its support for the Kurdish rebels.

He also writes, in another place, a that-clause can be the subject.

So, there should be no problem with (2) or (3).

2 Answers 2

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There is nothing wrong with using a that-clause as the subject of this sentence. The problem is with your use of the simple present tense, which is certainly possible but seems unusual here due to how we would usually expect these events to be reported. (That also makes sentence 1 seem a bit unnatural to me.) Consider this version of your second sentence:

That the United States is stopping its support for the Kurdish rebels has caused the fragmentation of the opposition and an increased vulnerability to Hussein's renewed attacks.

Voila! Now it's fine.

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  • Is there a reason for using "has caused" instead of "is causing"? Or "is stopping" instead of "has stopped"?
    – alphabet
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 2:02
  • If the sentence is now fine, then it-extraposition would work, but it doesn’t: * It has caused the fragmentation of the opposition ... that the United States is stopping its support for the Kurdish rebels. Commented May 18, 2023 at 2:17
  • @alphabet No, I just chose some verb forms that seemed to make sense. Others could work, too. Commented May 18, 2023 at 4:26
  • @TinfoilHat Are you suggesting that it-extraposition must be possible in order for a sentence beginning with a that-clause to be valid? I would not agree with that. Commented May 18, 2023 at 4:48
  • Well, no, I guess not. Commented May 18, 2023 at 15:17
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While some verbs can take a that-clause as a (usually extraposed) subject, most verbs cannot. The verb cause does not allow such a subject.

Edit: Auracaria provides this counterexample:

That you could even suggest such a thing causes the hairs on the back of my neck to bristle with rage.

I'd delete this answer but the comment thread is worth preserving.

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  • And cause doesn't govern the rule of Extraposition, which would provide the dummy it of (3) if it could apply. But it can't. Commented May 17, 2023 at 15:26
  • I have no problem with It worries me that the United States is stopping its support for the Kurdish rebels (where I suspect it's syntactically irrelevant to OP that I can't abide Simple Present stops). And I can't see any reason why I shouldn't reword that to It causes me distress that the US is doing this, which looks syntactically close enough to OP's example #3 for me. Commented May 17, 2023 at 16:21
  • @FumbleFingers it worries me can be rephrased as it is worrisome to me, and it causes me distress as it is distressful. They are about impressions. Then, am I right in thinking that that-clause can't be the subject of a sentence describing an action.
    – Aki
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 17:06
  • So, what kinds of verbs can take a that-clause as a (usually extraposed) subject?
    – Aki
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 17:10
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    This is just not true. That you could even suggest such a thing causes the hairs on the back of my neck to bristle with rage. Commented May 17, 2023 at 20:30

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