I think "He is who is known as a bellyacher" is right because "who" there functions as the subject of the clause and "he" is a human being rather than a thing. My teacher said it is a practice and just memorize it but I wondered if there is a explanation.

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    It's "syntactically valid", but would rarely if ever be uttered by a native Anglophone. For most contexts, who is is utterly redundant (we just say He is known as a bellyacher). But if we wanted to include a second [pro]noun in the reference, we'd more likely say He is someone who is known as a bellyacher (or He is a man who..., or similar). OR we use the idiomatically established format X is what is known as Y, where it's syntactically irrelevant whether X is a thing or a person. May 25, 2023 at 13:23
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    @FumbleFingers - people often say things like he is what you might call a bloody idiot. May 25, 2023 at 13:31
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    I think you mean memorize, not mesmerize!
    – stangdon
    May 25, 2023 at 13:50
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    It's probably the same reason we ask What are you called? / What do people call you? rather than Who are you called?... The "label" is a "thing", even if what it refers to is a person. May 25, 2023 at 14:02
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    "He is [the type of person] that is known as a bellyacher." May 25, 2023 at 15:06

1 Answer 1


We use "what" instead of "who" because the pronoun refers to a concept (a type of person), not the person himself. Kate Bunting notes (in a comment above) that your sentence is equivalent to:

He is [the type of person that] is known as a bellyacher.

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