I have seen the following sentence:

They reported whatever it was he did.

I wonder whether "it was" should not be removed to have a grammatical structure.

If the sentence is grammatical, what is the semantic difference between the sentence and the one without "it was"?

  • They're both correct and mean the same thing.
    – Void
    Jun 11 '21 at 13:25
  • @Void Thanks for your comment. Can you please elaborate? I cannot understand why the first sentence is correct; adding "it was" seems ungrammatical to me.
    – Later
    Jun 11 '21 at 13:29
  • I can't explain its grammar... but adding 'it was' seems nicer to me! :)
    – Void
    Jun 11 '21 at 13:37
  • 1
    @Void: Idiomatically these 2 sentences don't quite mean the same thing. Even though the grammar doesn't really account for it, they have 2 different meanings. "Report whatever he did" means everything he did was reported. The other sentence implies that his activities were reported, but the speaker doesn't know what those activities were. I think it boils down to "whatever" can have 2 diff. meanings: 1)"everything", or 2)"something"(the speaker wants to refer to it, but he doesn't know what it is)
    – Lorel C.
    Jun 11 '21 at 13:57
  • The function of the phrase "it is" that Later asked about is to signal the second meaning of "whatever" [something not known to the speaker].
    – Lorel C.
    Jun 11 '21 at 14:01

[1] They reported whatever it was [that] he did.

[2] They reported whatever he did.

Both have similar meanings but their sentence structures are different.

whatever it was he did is a subordinate interrogative clause functioning as direct object of reported. it and was are the subject and linking verb respectively. I have inserted [that] to show that he did is a reduced relative clause within this subordinate clause.

whatever he did similarly is a subordinate interrogative clause functioning as direct object of reported. he and did are the subject and action verb respectively.

  • Thanks for your answer. Can you tell me which one is more formal?
    – Later
    Jun 11 '21 at 13:51

While Seowjooheng's answer is good, it may not be complete.

As a native Englishman, I interpret the two sentences differently.

  • They reported whatever he did.

This means, they watched him (over a period of time), and every single thing he did, they reported. "First he sat down, then he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket, then he blew his nose, then he ..."

  • They reported whatever it was he did.

This means:

"He did something specific, but we (who read the sentence) don't know what that something is. But what we do know is: Whatever that (reportable) thing was, they reported it."

  • I would hate to be sarcastic and say "as a native American", which would be wrong on two counts. Whatever makes you think your answer would not be the same thing in AmE? It is the same language and grammar for this kind of thing.
    – Lambie
    Jun 11 '21 at 14:22
  • 1
    @Lambie I was explaining my own understanding of what it means in English. The answer from Seowjooheng appears to be as it is understood in Singapore. As for what it means in American, I wouldn't know, as I am not from there. Please feel free to explain what it means in American as you wish. Jun 11 '21 at 14:29
  • American is not a language. Seowjooheng did not explain what it means "in Singapore"; He just provided a technical grammar explanation., some of which may not be right. The grammar of this type of sentence is the same in all varieties of standard English: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
    – Lambie
    Jun 11 '21 at 14:41
  • @Lambie I always find it is useful to state the milieu in which my use of language feels natual and correct. This may or may not coincide with that of other such milieux in which language may differ. The fact that such usage is often the same for those various other places you mention is neither here nor there. And it may of course be completely inaccurate to suggest that the British English interpretation is universal, because I know full well that, for example, Indian English has constructions and patterns totally different from their corresponding British English usage. Jun 11 '21 at 15:42
  • @Lambie As for American, there are sufficient differences between it and English for it to be a far more unlikely situation that the usages are guaranteed to coincide. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. I neither know nor care. And, as I say, I report my experience as a native English speaker. Jun 11 '21 at 15:44

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