1

I know that 'What' can be used as a pronoun in place of 'the thing(s) that', for example:

  • You are what made me strong = You are the thing that made me strong.

Can 'Who' be used in a similar way to mean 'the person/people that' in the above sentence? Or is it more of a question word? For example:

  • You are who made me strong = You are the person who made me strong.

Is it me or does the second sentence sound so much more awkward with 'who' instead of 'what'. And I couldn't find many similar examples either. Is it because 'who' is mainly used as a relative pronoun that follows a subject/object? Overall, which sentence would a native speaker use?

Many thanks.

  • 1
    No: “who” – unlike "what” or “whoever” – cannot normally occur in the fused relative construction. So you can’t say, for example *"Who has made me strong is you". – BillJ Feb 8 '17 at 13:52
  • So it's called 'fused relative construction'. Thanks for providing this term. – JUNCINATOR Feb 8 '17 at 13:55
  • We'd say You are the one who made me strong. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 8 '17 at 16:38
2

As commented by @BillJ, it's a fused relative clause.

You can say as follows:

  1. You are the one who made me strong (as commented by @TRomano).

  2. It's you who made me strong.

  3. You're the person who made me strong.

The sentences #1 and #2 sound more appropriate.

-1
  • You are what made me strong = You are the thing that made me strong.
  • You are who made me strong = You are the person who made me strong.

These are both correct and equivalent in meaning. In this case, it is more awkward with "who" for "what"; I would definitely use the latter. Note that who cannot be used in sentences like "What has made me strong is you" but it can be used instead of that: "The girl who aced the test" = "The girl that aced the test." Overall you are correct, "who" for "that" is probably more common than "who" for "what."

Source: native American English

  • No, that's wrong. Fused "who" is flat ungrammatical in such constructions. You can't say, for example *"Who made me strong is you". Fused "who" can only be used in 'free choice' relatives as an alternant to "whoever", e.g. "Invite whoever/who you like". – BillJ Feb 8 '17 at 16:16
  • Yes, that's why I wrote "Note that who cannot be used in sentences like 'What has made me strong is you'" – Sorcha NicEalair Feb 9 '17 at 3:02
  • 1
    Read your answer again.You said that "You are what made me strong and You are who made me strong are both correct and equivalent in meaning though it is more awkward with "who". But it's worse than "more awkward" - it's flat wrong and ungrammatical. – BillJ Feb 9 '17 at 8:05
  • BillJ, I am a linguistics major and a native English speaker. Linguists decide what is grammatical by what native speakers accept and although awkward that sentence is not ungrammatical for me. I made it clear that I did not recommend that the OP actually say it that way. – Sorcha NicEalair Feb 10 '17 at 15:15
  • As a fused relative, it is ungrammatical and cannot possibly mean "You are the person who made me strong". Fused relative "who" is only possible as an alternate to "whoever" in a free choice relative like "Invite whoever/who you like". It's highly misleading to give the impression that as a fused relative it is grammatical when it isn't (compare the impossibility of *"Who has made me strong is you"). The only grammatical interpretation of the OP's sentence is as an interrogative content clause (embedded question), where the meaning is "You are the answer to the question 'Who made me strong?'" – BillJ Feb 10 '17 at 15:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.