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    • Join Date: Jan 2009
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    #1

    What v that

    I'm an English teacher, but I would like to know how best to explain to my students why the following are wrong:

    the house what I built was red.
    the man what kept me waiting was wearing a blue hat.
    The school what I go to is just round the corner from my house.

    Here, you should use 'that'. How can I explain this using grammatical terms?

    What and That are both pronouns - what's the difference between them here? Both words have many different uses/meanings, of course, as pronouns - how do I explain the difference here?

    You can say: I will send what was promised.
    You can say: They are just what I was expecting.

    I need the grammatical terms for the words (not just 'pronoun') and the rule to apply here...e.g. what cannot be used as a X etc...

    Thanks teachers!

    (yes, I know I should work it out myself, but I'm very tired today!)

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    #2

    Re: What v that

    Quote Originally Posted by ukenglishteacher View Post
    I'm an English teacher, but I would like to know how best to explain to my students why the following are wrong:

    the house what I built was red.
    the man what kept me waiting was wearing a blue hat.
    The school what I go to is just round the corner from my house.

    Here, you should use 'that'. How can I explain this using grammatical terms?

    What and That are both pronouns - what's the difference between them here? Both words have many different uses/meanings, of course, as pronouns - how do I explain the difference here?

    You can say: I will send what was promised.
    You can say: They are just what I was expecting.

    I need the grammatical terms for the words (not just 'pronoun') and the rule to apply here...e.g. what cannot be used as a X etc...

    Thanks teachers!

    (yes, I know I should work it out myself, but I'm very tired today!)
    (With great diffidence) Would it help that "what" is an interrogative pronoun and "that" is a relative pronoun? Therefore, "what" asks or implies a question, and "that" introduces a subordinate clause that describes, but not the other way around... Or, to explain the last two sentences, that "what" is basically a shorthand for "which things"?
    Last edited by abaka; 19-Jan-2009 at 01:40.


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    #3

    Re: What v that

    Thanks v much!
    I've woken up vaguely, now and yes, after investigating 'relative pronoun'. I'm hope I'm right in assuming I can say to my students:

    " the word 'what' cannot be used as a 'relative pronoun' "

    'what' is a pronoun, but it's not 'relative' !

    However, the word 'what' is not just used 'interrogatively' - I don't know the term for the type of pronoun in these example sentences:

    I will send what was promised.
    They are just what I was expecting.

    but, it seems that 'what' stands in place of 'it that'. In English, we can't say 'it that' we have to use 'what'...

    I will send it
    which 'it' ?
    the one that was promised.

    So to combine these two ideas:

    I will send IT THAT was promised = incorrect

    I will send WHAT was promised = correct

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    #4

    Re: What v that

    Quote Originally Posted by ukenglishteacher View Post
    Thanks v much!
    I've woken up vaguely, now and yes, after investigating 'relative pronoun'. I'm hope I'm right in assuming I can say to my students:

    " the word 'what' cannot be used as a 'relative pronoun' "

    'what' is a pronoun, but it's not 'relative' !

    However, the word 'what' is not just used 'interrogatively' - I don't know the term for the type of pronoun in these example sentences:

    I will send what was promised.
    They are just what I was expecting.

    but, it seems that 'what' stands in place of 'it that'. In English, we can't say 'it that' we have to use 'what'...

    I will send it
    which 'it' ?
    the one that was promised.

    So to combine these two ideas:

    I will send IT THAT was promised = incorrect

    I will send WHAT was promised = correct
    I like the "it that" explanation very much. I had suggested "I'll send... (implied question) which thing? the thing that was promised... I'll send what was promised", but now I can't think of any counterexamples to "it that".


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    #5

    Re: What v that

    Relative pronouns refer back to people or things previously mentioned. English example: People who smoke should quit now.
    • Indefinite relative pronouns have some of the properties of both relative pronouns and indefinite pronouns. They have a sense of "referring back", but the person or thing to which they refer has not previously been explicitly named. English example: I know what I like.
    I found the above in Wikipedia.. so 'what' can be an 'indefinite relative pronoun', but not a 'relative pronoun'. The thing to which it refers cannot be previously mentioned...hmmm, let's see:

    the car what my brother bought... = incorrect because 'what' can't be a relative pronoun (previously mentioned thing)
    Likewise, "the places what we went to were amazing" = incorrect

    so it seems to make the rule easy, you could say to students, the word 'what' can't follow a noun...

    it can come before a 'noun' to become an 'interrogative pronoun' (e.g. What car do you drive?), but not after...

    However, when it comes after a verb:

    I will send what was promised
    I know what I like
    They are just what I was expecting

    this is ok! (and 'what' here is an 'indefinite relative pronoun') - is that right??

    so, the WHAT rules for my students:
    Before a noun (interrogative) = correct
    After a noun (NOT a relative pronoun) = incorrect
    After a verb (an indefinite relative pronoun) = correct

    Are there any counter-examples you can think of?

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    #6

    Re: What v that

    So this, then, is the classification of relative pronouns, where antecedent refers to a noun already mentioned:
    1. Definite (with antecedent)
    a. Restrictive
    that -- person, thing
    who/whom/whose -- person
    (which -- thing)
    b. non-restrictive
    which -- thing
    who/whom/whose -- person
    2. Indefinite (without antecedent) = restrictive by definition
    what -- thing
    who/whom/whose -- person
    And, if "definite" and "indefinite" are applied to interrogative pronouns depending on whether they have a "subsequent", then we have:
    what -- indefinite, thing
    who/whom/whose -- definite/indefinite, person
    which -- definite, thing
    ****

    I cannot think of any counterexamples. Wikipedia also has a table of correlatives. But that seems going too far for the present.

  1. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: What v that

    Quote Originally Posted by ukenglishteacher View Post
    Thanks v much!
    I've woken up vaguely, now and yes, after investigating 'relative pronoun'. I'm hope I'm right in assuming I can say to my students:

    " the word 'what' cannot be used as a 'relative pronoun' "

    'what' is a pronoun, but it's not 'relative' !

    However, the word 'what' is not just used 'interrogatively' - I don't know the term for the type of pronoun in these example sentences:

    I will send what was promised.
    They are just what I was expecting.

    but, it seems that 'what' stands in place of 'it that'. In English, we can't say 'it that' we have to use 'what'...

    I will send it
    which 'it' ?
    the one that was promised.

    So to combine these two ideas:

    I will send IT THAT was promised = incorrect

    I will send WHAT was promised = correct
    'I will send that which was promised.' This is the correct form, but '...what was promised.' is probably more widely used even though, strictly speaking, it is grammatically incorrect.


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    #8

    Re: What v that

    Quote Originally Posted by bhaisahab View Post
    'I will send that which was promised.' This is the correct form, but '...what was promised.' is probably more widely used even though, strictly speaking, it is grammatically incorrect.
    I will send that which was promised. -- this sentence is grammatical

    that = object of send
    which = relative pronoun referring back to 'that'.

    'what' is a relative pronoun too. (SWAN 497.1)
    what = the thing(s) which

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