I was wondering which one of these is correct?

What keeps me sane, during these insane times, are my books.


What keep me sane, during these insane times, are my books.

I understand that logically, the subject of the verb 'keep' is 'books' and because the word 'books' is plural, the verb should be 'keep' but, it sounds so weird that I cannot convience myself to believe it. Can somebody help me with this and tell me if I'm wrong?

  • 2
    I like the first one better, but I might use "is my books" instead of "are my books."
    – Justin
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 18:30
  • So the third-person singular verb "keeps" does sound correct but it doesn't seem to belong with the plural "books." Consider, "My books keep me sane" is correct versus "My books keeps me sane." I don't know why it works differently in OP's question. In this case, is "what" acting as the singular noun and "are my books" is just clarifying the "what?" Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 19:02
  • @Justin: I'm not a native English speaker but doesn't "is my books" at the end throw you off? I don't seem to understand it properly.
    – 7_R3X
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 20:58
  • I don't know why, but it sounds ok to me. Maybe I understand it as meaning "is my collection of books" or "is reading my books," or maybe singular/plural is just complicated.
    – Justin
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 15:10

1 Answer 1


The logical subject may be books, but in English the subject is what.

What is usually singular, unless it is asking a question about several separate things, eg "What are the reasons for that". As a fused relative pronoun (which is what it is here) it is always singular.

The fact that its logical antecedent is plural is irrelevant. The verb keeps is singular.

There is some individual variation about the second verb, the are. I would agree with Justin and use is, to agree with the subject what, rather than the complement; but I would not object to are.

But consider:

The thing that keeps me sane is my books.

There, are would sound wrong to me.

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