what (1). Today: Singular or Plural? Eric Partridge opined that “what,” as the subject of a clause, generally takes a singular (third-person) verb regardless of what follows (not “what follow”) (Usage & Abusage at 362). Thus: o “What she wants is a new house.” o “What we need in this company is more type-A personalities.” o “What is at issue is assertions, not facts.” o “He put on what is called his trousers.” o “The two sides fear a deterioration in what has been amicable negotiations.” Those sentences reflect the most conservative usage. The last three sound pedantic, though, and good usage allows more variety than Partridge’s straitjacketing advice. In fact, when used as a pronoun, “what” may be either singular or plural. The possibilities are several. Next: Singular “what” Uses. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! . . . Substantially all ideas are second-hand; consciously & unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, & daily used by the garnerer with a pride & satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them.” Mark Twain, “Letter to Helen Keller” (17 March 1903), in 2 Mark Twain’s Letters 731 (Albert Bigelow Paine ed., 1917) (as quoted in Mark Twain: His Words, Wit, and Wisdom 213 (R. Kent Rasmussen ed., 1997)). ====================
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