According to google ngrams the second variant is more widely used:

  1. [It was cold there], what took us by surprise.

  2. [It was cold there], which took us by surprise.

Can anybody, please, explain me why? Which variant is better? Will it be a mistake to use the first one?

  • 1
    In (1) "what took us by surprise" is ungrammatical since "what" is not ordinarily allowed in relative clauses in Standard English. (2) is fine, of course.
    – BillJ
    May 1, 2017 at 16:12

1 Answer 1

  1. It was cold there, what took us by surprise.
  2. It was cold there, which took us by surprise.

In both examples, the words in bold refer to It was cold there – a clause.

As a relative pronoun, what, unlike which, cannot be used to refer to a previous clause. Therefore, only sentence 2 is grammatical.

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