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According to the explanation in my book, number 2 'what' is grammatically incorrect, so it should be changed to 'that'. That is, it-that cleft structure

But, I think 'what' is not necessarily incorrect. What about this? This can be possible

ex) What preserved their culture legacy for descendants was the dense jungle

= It was the dense jungle what preserved their culture legacy for descendants

Is there any reason why 'what' is incorrect ?

2 Answers 2

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[1] [What preserved their cultural legacy for descendants] was the dense jungle.

[2]* It was the dense jungle [what preserved their cultural legacy for descendants].

[1] is fine: this is a 'fused' relative construction where the bracketed element is not a relative clause but a noun phrase functioning as subject, where "what" means "that which".

But [2] is ungrammatical because "what" is not permitted in Standard English as the relativised item in a (non-fused) relative clause.

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No, your example is also incorrect. Using "what" instead of "that" in both examples is wrong.

It is sometimes used colloquially, for example in cockney London English, but don't do that, unless you can flawlessly do the accent as well.

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    "What preserved their culture legacy for descendants was the dense jungle" is not wrong -- it's fine.
    – BillJ
    Apr 8, 2020 at 8:54
  • They edited their question since I answered. Apr 9, 2020 at 5:44

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