According to @StoneyB's Cannonical Post #2 . States cannot serve as the complement in Wh-cleft constructions. As an example there,

  • What John did was have written three novels. – This is not idiomatic English

But what disturb my mind is, what if the state serve as the complement in this kind of sentence

All John did was have written three novels.

Is this sentence grammatical and idiomatic?

  • 1
    What are you trying to say? What do you want this sentence to mean? – Catija Dec 8 '16 at 0:25
  • @Catija Im just asking about the construction and they sentences was copied from the cannonical post. Do you think the second sentence grammatical? – user178049 Dec 8 '16 at 3:11
  • Neither one is grammatical or idiomatic. At a minimum, you need a "to" in front of "have". – MMacD Dec 8 '16 at 13:22

You can't do that. You have to do this:

What John had done was write three novels

I think what's happening is that only infinitives (and in this case to is not specified) are valid after to be.

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  • What about the second sentence, should it be "All John had done was write three novels"? – user178049 Dec 8 '16 at 14:02
  • That is correct. – LawrenceC Dec 8 '16 at 14:07

If you want to express state, then you'd need something like "John's entire (creative output / life's work) was 3 novels". If you explicitly use a verb, you're no longer expressing state: "The only thing John ever did was write 3 novels".

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  • Hrmm.. stuck at that "creative output".. I still dont get it. – user178049 Dec 8 '16 at 13:39

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