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I was writing my thoughts and put it like that at first:

An explanation what is the foundation of this stuff. (&)

Then I thought: "Wait, shouldn't is be at the end?", so I rephrased the sentence and looked at it again:

An explanation what the foundation of this stuff is. (#)

As to a non-native English user, this sentence felt somewhat awkward to me, so I've found an article about it:

What as a pronoun
We can use what as a pronoun to mean ‘the thing(s) that’:
What we need to do is make a list of useful phone numbers. (the thing we need to do)

And indeed, my sentence can be rephrased using this rule:

An explanation of the thing that is the foundation of this stuff.

I've also tried to replace what by some contextual synonyms:

An explanation what [inhabits]/[amounts to] the foundation of this stuff.

Or thinking up similar sentence structures:

I'm analyzing what is there.

But I'm still not sure.
According to my understanding of English, the (#) version is totally correct, but after all this research, I'm still not sure about the (&) version.

My question - is the (&) version correct?

  • Neither of the first two sentences are grammatical as far as I can tell. I can't think of any sentence involving an explanation what that makes sense. You can use an explanation that, but what doesn't work. On the other hand, you could write an explanation of what or an explanation for what but you'd also have to continue it in some form other than what you have in your existing sentences. In short, I don't know what the first two sentences are trying to express. Even if the phrases were correct, they are not complete sentences. – Jason Bassford Jan 8 at 8:58
  • @JasonBassford, so even with of, both of these sentences are not grammatical / appropriate? – Ramid Jan 8 at 9:28
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    An explanation of what the foundations of this stuff is is fine as it stands—but it's not a complete sentence. It's no different than saying A working theory. It's formed correctly but it doesn't say anything. There is no verb (or predicate). It would be fine in the specific context of a conversation where it was given as an answer to a question: (I offer it as an explanation of what . . .) But as a standalone sentence without that kind of context it's not functional. – Jason Bassford Jan 8 at 15:26
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"An explanation what is the foundation of this stuff" is definitely not correct and sounds completely unnatural. As for the second sentence, I would add an "of" or something like that to it.
Also, "foundation" is usually a more formal word, while "stuff" is definitely not formal. I would word it like this:

An explanation of what the foundation of this is.
An explanation as to what the foundation of this is.

Furthermore, this sentence is incomplete. Add in a subject age and verb and you have:

I would like an explanation of what the foundation of this is.

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