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What

What is generally a compound relative, including both the antecedent and the relative, and is equivalent to that which; as, "This is what I wanted;" that is, that which, or, the thing which I wanted.


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  Samuel Kirkham  —  Grammar Tips
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What is generally a compound relative, including both the antecedent
and the relative, and is equivalent to that which; as, "This is What
I wanted;" that is, that which, or, the thing which I wanted.

What is compounded of which that. These words have been contracted
and made to coalesce, a part of the orthography of both being still
retained: what--wh[ich--t]hat; (which-that.) Anciently it appeared
in the varying forms, tha qua, qua tha, qu'tha, quthat, quhat, hwat,
and finally, What.

What may be used as three kinds of a pronoun, and as an interjection.
When it is equivalent to that which, the thing which, or those things
which, it is a compound relative, because it includes both the
antecedent and the relative; as, "I will try What (that which) can be
found in female delicacy; What you recollect with most pleasure, are
the virtuous actions of your past life;" that is, those things which
you recollect.

When What is a compound relative, you must always parse it as two
words; that is, you must parse the antecedent part as a noun, and give
it a case; the relative part you may analyze like any other relative,
giving it a case likewise. In the first of the preceding examples,
that, the antecedent part of What, is in the obj. case, governed by
the verb "will try;" which, the relative part, is in the nom. case to
"can be found." "I have heard What (i.e. that which, or the thing
which) has been alleged."

Whoever and whosoever are also compound relatives, and should be
parsed like the compound What; as, "Whoever takes that oath, is
bound to enforce the laws." In this sentence, whoever is equivalent to
he who, or, the man who; thus, "He who takes that oath, is bound".

Who, which, and What, when used in asking questions, are called
interrogative pronouns, or relatives of the interrogative kind; as,
"Who is he? Which is the person? What are you doing?"

Interrogative pronouns have no antecedent; but they relate to the word
or phrase which is the answer to the question, for their subsequent; as,
"Whom did you see? The preceptor. What have you done? Nothing."
Antecedent and subsequent are opposed to each other in signification.
Antecedent means preceding, or going before; and subsequent means
following, or coming after. What, when used as an interrogative, is
never compound.

What, which, and that, when joined to nouns, are specifying
adjectives, or adjective pronouns, in which situation they have no case,
but are parsed like adjective pronouns of the demonstrative or
indefinite kind; as, "Unto which promise our twelve tribes hope to
come;" "What misery the vicious endure! What havock hast thou made,
foul monster, sin!"

What and which, when joined to nouns in asking questions, are
denominated interrogative pronominal adjectives; as, "What man is
that? Which road did he take?"

What, whatever, and whatsoever, which, whichever, and whichsoever,
in constructions like the following, are compound pronouns, but not
compound relatives; as, "In What character Butler was admitted, is
unknown; Give him What name you choose; Nature's care largely endows
whatever happy man will deign to use her treasures; Let him take
which course, or, whichever course he will." These sentences may be
rendered thus; "That character, or, the character in which Butler
was admitted, is unknown; Give him that name, or, the name which
you choose; Nature's care endows that happy man who will deign.;
Let him take that course, or the course which he will." A compound
relative necessarily includes both an antecedent and a relative. These
compounds, you will notice, do not include antecedents, the first part
of each word being the article the, or the adjective pronoun, that;
therefore they cannot properly be denominated compound relatives.--With
regard to the word ever annexed to these pronouns, it is a singular
fact, that, as soon as we analyze the word to which it is subjoined,
ever is entirely excluded from the sentence.

What is sometimes used as an interjection; as, "But What! is thy
servant a dog, that he should do this? What! rob us of our right of
suffrage, and then shut us up in dungeons!"

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