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    #1

    what-an interrogative or a relative pronoun

    Hi,

    I have a question about the word "what". Sometimes I find it difficult to tell
    whether it is an interrogative or a relative pronoun.

    My grammar book says that in the two following sentences
    "what" is a relative pronoun.
    1. We had to write what we talked about our pets.
    2. I checked what he had given me at first.

    It gives another example and says in this sentence,

    3. I don't know what he wants.

    "what" is an interrogative.

    Can't the word what in 1 & 2 be seen as either way-an interrogative or a relative pronoun?
    Also, I wonder if what in no.3 can be seen as a relative pronoun as well.

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    #2

    Re: what-an interrogative or a relative pronoun

    Quote Originally Posted by forinfo View Post




    1. We had to write what we talked about our pets.



    3. I don't know what he wants.



    NOT A TEACHER


    Hello, Forinfo:

    1. I have read #1 several times. I believe that you either copied the sentence incorrectly, or the writer wrote an incorrect sentence.

    a. This is how I would revise that sentence: "We had to write about what we said about our pets."

    b. My books tell me that when "what" is a relative pronoun, it = that which.

    c. Let's substitute "that which" for "what": "We had to write about that which we said about our pets."

    It seems to work.

    2. My book gives this sentence: "I wonder what he will say.

    a. It calls "what" an interrogative pronoun. The direct question is "What will he say?"

    b. The indirect question "what he will say" becomes the object of the verb "wonder."

    c. Your direct question is "What does he want?"

    d. The indirect question " what he wants"" becomes the object of the verb "know."


    Source: House and Harman, Descriptive English Grammar (copyright 1931 and 1950).
    Last edited by TheParser; 27-May-2016 at 15:05.

  1. Piscean's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: what-an interrogative or a relative pronoun

    Quote Originally Posted by forinfo View Post
    3. I don't know what he wants.
    It looks like a relative pronoun to me. No question is being asked.

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    #4

    Re: what-an interrogative or a relative pronoun

    Exactly. It means 'I don't know what [it is that] he wants'.
    I am not a teacher

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    #5

    Re: what-an interrogative or a relative pronoun

    Quote Originally Posted by forinfo View Post
    Hi,

    I have a question about the word "what". Sometimes I find it difficult to tell
    whether it is an interrogative or a relative pronoun.

    My grammar book says that in the two following sentences
    "what" is a relative pronoun.
    1. We had to write what we talked about our pets.
    2. I checked what he had given me at first.

    It gives another example and says in this sentence,

    3. I don't know what he wants.

    "what" is an interrogative.

    Can't the word what in 1 & 2 be seen as either way-an interrogative or a relative pronoun?
    Also, I wonder if what in no.3 can be seen as a relative pronoun as well.
    It can be both.

    As a relative pronoun it has the meaning "the thing which", so I checked what he had given me means I checked the thing which he had given me. When used this way "what" is sometimes called a 'fused' relative word, and the constituent what he had given me is a noun phrase.

    In your third example "what" is an interrogative word introducing the subordinate interrogative clause "what he wants". It is not understood as meaning that I’m not personally familiar with the thing he wants, but that "I don’t know the answer to the question 'What does he want?"'. Subordinate interrogatives express questions, but do not themselves ask them.
    Last edited by PaulMatthews; 27-May-2016 at 22:19.

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    #6

    Re: what-an interrogative or a relative pronoun

    s
    Quote Originally Posted by PaulMatthews View Post
    In your third example "what" is an interrogative word introducing the subordinate interrogative clause "what he wants". It is not understood as meaning that I’m not personally familiar with the thing he wants, but that "I don’t know the answer to the question 'What does he want?"'. Subordinate interrogatives express questions, but do not themselves ask them.
    I don't agree.

    In What does he want?, what means something like what/which action/event/state/process/thing? It is clearly a pronoun, and it is clearly interrogative.

    In I don't know what he wants (no question mark), what means something like what/which action/event/state/process/thing that/which/-. It is, in essence, a 'fused pronoun', having within itself its own antecedent. It is in no way interrogative, as far as I can see.

    It is not understood as meaning that I’m not personally familiar with the thing he wants,


    Well, if we expand thing to cover action, event, state or process, that is very roughly what it does mean.

    but that "I don’t know the answer to the question 'What does he want?"'.
    Fine, but what he does not know is the answer to a question. It is not in itself a question.


    I would say the same about Do you know what he wants? The underlined part is a relative clause, not an interrogative one; it is contained within an interrogative sentence.

    The following two sentences show that there does not even have to be a question (implied/indirect or otherwise) in the situation:

    He wants something. I don't know what he wants .

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    #7

    Re: what-an interrogative or a relative pronoun

    As I said, interrogative subordinate clauses do not ask questions directly, rather they express questions, hence no question mark. In I don't know what he wants,there is no fusion between a head and a relativized element. It's not understood as denoting a thing (the thing he wants), but rather "I don't have a clue what it is that he wants; it could be anything. The main clause equivalent would be What does he want?
    Last edited by PaulMatthews; 28-May-2016 at 12:36.

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    #8

    Re: what-an interrogative or a relative pronoun

    Thank you all for you replies.

    They gave me a clearer understanding about the questions surrounding
    whether "what" is a relative pronoun or an interrogative, or both.

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