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  1. What these movies will be are sequels of older films.

    What these movies will be is sequels of older films.

  2. What these kids will be are late for school.

    What these kids will be is late for school.

IS either are/is applicable in both scenarios? I'm not a native speaker, and for whatever reason, in the first case, I feel like are is the right choice, whereas in the second one, I feel like is the right choice.

Am I right or wrong? Or is is or are the right word for both cases?

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    I would agree with your intuition in both cases but I'm not 100% certain that's the correct answer. In any case, I would usually re-phrase both of them: "These movies will be sequels," "These kids will be late." This phrasing is only used for emphasis, like when someone said "These kids will be fine!" and you are responding in the negative: "No, what these kids will be is late for school."
    – randomhead
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 20:09
  • I'd use "is" but "are" doesn't sound too wrong in the first case. Is this a real problem or a made up one. Is there a context in which you were talking about movies in which this structure arose naturally? Randomhead gives a possible context... but it would be very rare.
    – James K
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 20:12
  • Use are for the first because what refers to sequels. Use is for the second, because the phrase "late for school" follows the example of numberless things being singular (What she is, is annoying! etc). Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 14:58

2 Answers 2

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I had to ask someone else for input on this; your question is tricky!

You need to realize that the linking verb is not actually referring to "these movies" or "these kids"—it is referring to what they will be. Thus, "sequels" and "late for school" both exist as generalizable prototypes, applicable to anything at all that "what" could refer to. For "sequels", the prototype is itself plural, but native speakers usually idiosyncratically use "is" instead of "are" in pretty much all of these types of sentences, even when it's technically wrong.

And, as the other answer said, this type of structure is really weird, primarily because it uses two linking verbs—"is/are" and "be"—where only one would suffice. This gives it an extremely passive voice that would probably only be acceptable if it is parallel to a similarly structured sentence in a more acceptable context somewhere nearby.

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I'd use "is" in both cases, but I would avoid this structure if at all possible.

You can in both cases just say "The movies will be sequels..." "These kids will be late." There is very little need for the construction "What these kids will be is...."

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