Pseudo-Cleft Sentences with WHAT

Discussion in 'English Only' started by goksuc, Mar 14, 2007.

  1. goksuc New Member

    Ankara
    Turkish
    Hello All,

    In grammar books, it's said that a pseudo-cleft sentence with "what" takes a singular verb if it is in the subject position. However, in BBC's website, I've seen that they made an example sentence like this:

    "What we need now are actions rather than words". So normally it can also be said this way: "Actions rather than words are what we need now."

    However in Cambridge University Press, Passages 2 Student Book, it explains that noun clauses as subject always takes a singular verb and gives this example: " What I first realize about people is their eyes." And when we start with "their eyes", we have to say " Their eyes are what I first realize about people".

    Now it's quite confusing for ESL students. Is there anyone who can enlighten me about this subject? When do we exactly use a plural verb in a cleft sentence with what?
     
  2. MonaArg Senior Member

    Argentina-Spanish
    Hi,
    I've learnt to use singular forms too. So,... That's what I do!
    Bye,
     
  3. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I use the singular because I was taught that "what" is singular and that the verb must agree with the subject, not the predicate:

    What I need is two strong men to carry this wardrobe.

    However, a lot of people would use "are" instead of "is".
     
  4. FrankyFourFingers

    FrankyFourFingers Senior Member

    São Paulo
    Portuguese
    Hi there!
    Should I say:

    -What we want is better working conditions.
    or
    -What we want are better working conditions?

    Why?

    Thank you.
     
  5. Davidvs91 Senior Member

    English - American
    -What we want are better working conditions.
    Alternatively,
    -What we want is a better working condition.

    "Working conditions" is a plural, therefore we use "are". If it were a single "working condition", "is" would be appropriate.
     
  6. FrankyFourFingers

    FrankyFourFingers Senior Member

    São Paulo
    Portuguese

    Right, initially that seemed logical to me, however, the collocation "What we want are..." didn't sound quite right...
     
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In cleft sentences, the cleft it takes a singular verb, regardless.

    In pseudo-cleft sentences, with what, the verb is also singular, regardless.

    Have a look at some of the threads about cleft sentences.

    It's equivalent to "the verb agrees in number with the subject".

    EDIT: But not everyone agrees with these statements :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2008
  8. Davidvs91 Senior Member

    English - American
    So you are saying "What we want is better working conditions" is correct?
     
  9. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    As I indicated, not everyone agrees that the verb must agree with the what clause and that the what clause is inherently single.

    When the complement is plural, there is tension.
    The winner in the tension depends on how essentially plural is the complement.

    I don't find better working conditions essentially plural.
    Even the two strong men in the following example seem to be singular :)

    What I need is two strong men to carry this wardrobe.
     
  10. FrankyFourFingers

    FrankyFourFingers Senior Member

    São Paulo
    Portuguese
    I found an explanation that seems to be ok.

    People sometimes make the verb agree with the complement, rather than the subject, when the subject is a long way from the verb. Look:
    -What I like most here is the museums.
    -What I like most in this wonderful city, without any doubt, are the museums.

    That's in Michael Swan's Practical English Usage.
     
  11. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Interesting examples, FFF - and helpful :)
    So by the time we take into account just how plural is the apparently plural complement, and just how far away from the what clause the complement has to be to count as "a long way", it's clear that there is plenty of room for subjectivity :D
     
  12. FrankyFourFingers

    FrankyFourFingers Senior Member

    São Paulo
    Portuguese
    Agreed, panjandrum.
    Guess I'll trust my ear and go with whatever sounds best. :)
     

Share This Page