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That is what I believe it means

Is 'what' here the object of 'I believe'? Or is there a wh-word omitted?

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  • There's nothing missing. In such contexts, what serves as a "noun" all on its own - equivalent to the thing that/which [I think]. Dec 23 '19 at 13:15
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Let's take a look at how questions are formed with phrases like I think, I believe, etc. Here's what Swan's Practical English Usage (Unit 264.8) says about it:

A wh-question usually refers to the main clause which starts with the question word. However, questions can also refer to subordinate that-clauses after verbs like wish, think or say.

Who do you wish (that) you'd married, then?
How long do you think (that) we should wait?
What did you say (that) you wanted for Christmas?

That is usually dropped in cases like these; it must be dropped when the question word refers to the subject of the subordinate clause.

Who do you think is outside? (NOT Who-do-you think that is outside?)
What do you suppose will happen now? (NOT What do you suppose that will happen now?)


In other words, let's take this statement:

He thinks (that) you'll have to wash the dishes.

To turn it into a wh-question, you'll have to change the verb think and put the question word before it, even if you're asking about something after it:

What does he think (that) you'll have to do?

To form an indirect question, remove the auxiliary do and put the verb into the tense of the auxiliary:

What does he think (that) you'll have to do?
What he thinks (that) you'll have to do.

How long do you think (that) we should wait?
How long you think (that) we should wait.

What did you say (that) you wanted for Christmas?
What you said (that) you wanted for Christmas.

The second example in each pair can't be used on its own, but it can be used as a subordinate clause. Subordinate clauses of this type can function as objects of verbs. For example:

I told him what you said (that) you wanted for Christmas.

He said how long he thought we should wait.


In your example, the verb is is.

That is what I believe (that) it means.

As PEU says, a wh-expression can refer to the clause right after think, believe, etc. Therefore, the what in your sentence refers to it means, not I believe.

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No, 'what' is an object of the verb 'mean' in the sentence.

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