The bad design is <what> caused the building's destruction.

shuiyue

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi everyone, strictly speaking, is this sentence correct grammatically:

1. The bad design is what caused the building's destruction.


If the sentence is correct, then what is the grammatical role of "what" in the sentence? I'm thinking pronoun, but the sentence doesn't work if I substitute another noun for "what" in the sentence.
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Hello, Shuiyue. The grammar in this sentence is fine. "What" is being used as a relative pronoun that means "the thing that":

    The bad design is what caused the building's destruction. = The bad design is the thing that caused the building's destruction.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    The bad design is what caused the building's destruction.


    If the sentence is correct, then what is the grammatical role of "what" in the sentence? I'm thinking pronoun, but the sentence doesn't work if I substitute another noun for "what" in the sentence.
    The bad design is what caused the building's destruction.

    The blue part is the subject of the sentence.
    The green part is the link verb "to be".
    The red part is the subject complement, which is a whole complement phrase. Now, this complement phrase has a subject of its own. That subject is "what".

    Because we have a link verb, the blue and the red part of the sentence are almost equal in importance and we can easily swap their places:

    What caused the building's destruction.is the bad design

    The red phrase led by "what" is already the subject of the sentence and the blue one - its complement. "What" remains the subject of the subject phrase.
     

    shuiyue

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Is there something special about "what" as a pronoun that makes the structure of sentence 1 in the OP possible? As you say, "what" is the subject within the complement phrase, but you can't simply substitute another noun/pronoun for "what". For example, the following sentence isn't right:

    2. The bad design is the thing caused the building's destruction.


    For sentence 2 to be correct the word "that" needs to be added after "the thing". So I'm just trying to figure out the grammatical rules at work here.

    Also, if "what" functioned as a relative pronoun in the sentence, wouldn't it have to immediately follow the noun it is referencing?
     
    Last edited by a moderator:
    < Previous | Next >
    Top