what (hwt, hwt, wt, wt; hwt, wt when unstressed) KEY
what for Informal
Middle English, from Old English hwæt; see kwo- in Indo-European roots
When what is the subject of a clause, it takes a singular verb if the word or phrase that completes the sentence (the complement) is singular, as in I see what seems to be a dead tree. It is plural if a plural noun or noun phrase completes the sentence, as in He sometimes makes what seem to be gestures of reconciliation.·Clauses with what as either subject or object may themselves be the subject of a sentence, and sometimes it is difficult to decide whether the verb of the main clause should be singular or plural. When the what in the what-clause is the object of the verb and the complement of the main clause is singular, the main verb is always singular: What they wanted was a home of their own; when the complement of the main sentence is plural, the verb is most often plural: What American education needs are smaller classes, though one also encounters sentences such as What the candidate gave the audience was the same old empty promises. When what is the subject of a what-clause that is the subject of a main clause, there is greater variation in usage. When the verb of the what-clause and the complement of the main clause are both plural or both singular, the number of the verb of the main clause generally agrees with them. When the verb in the what-clause is singular and the complement in the main clause is plural, one finds both singular and plural verbs being used. Sentences similar to both of the following are found in respected writers: What drives me crazy is her frequent tantrums; What bothers him are the discrepancies in their accounts. When the complement of the main clause consists of two or more nouns, the verb of the main clause is generally singular if the nouns are singular and plural if they are plural: What pleases the voters is his honesty and his willingness to take on difficult issues; On entering the harbor what first meet the eye are luxurious yachts and colorful villas. Occasionally the choice of a singular or plural verb may be used to convey a difference in meaning. In the sentence What excite him most are money and power, the implication is that money and power are separable goals; in What excites him most is money and power, the implication is that money and power are inextricably bound together. See Usage Note at which.