(1) “You know what I think that sounded like?”
(2) I made it my mission to figure out what it was that had evoked such primal feelings in my wife and me that morning.
(3) And perhaps that’s because of what they represent.
(4) They could not rule out the idea that what I heard was a mountain lion.
(All are from ‘Monsters in the Woods’, NYT)

In (1)~(3), what’s are fronted for adding complements to transitive verb, phrasal verb, preposition. But there is ‘that’ before ‘what,’ in (4). This noun phrase,‘the idea,’ may be in apposition with the ‘what-clause. Can ‘that’ be omitted in here?
In other cases, can what-clause be a modifier that modifies its previous noun phrase, just on which heels, e.g. without ‘that’ etc.?

1 Answer 1


What I heard is a fused relative. It's the subject of the subordinate clause what I heard was a mountain lion, which is marked as subordinate by the subordinator that:

thatsubordinator  what I heardsubject  waspredicator  a mountain lionpredicative complement

We can paraphrase the whole thing like this:

They could not rule out the idea [ that the thing I heard was a mountain lion ].

Or, paraphrased more loosely:

They thought it was possible [ that what I heard was a mountain lion ].

There is no noun phrase before what I heard in this example; we can see that it's not in apposition with anything.

  • Can this be an example of apposition? - (1) She had tried, over the years, to put him out of her mind, but it was hard to shut out the sensation of happiness, what she'd briefly known with him. If it is, is this (2) the same case as (1)?: (2) They could not rule out the idea, what I heard was a mountain lion.
    – Listenever
    Oct 13, 2014 at 20:15
  • I’d like to know if in (4) of OP, is ‘that’ a subordinator to modify previous noun phrase? If this phrase is separated by comma, don’t you need the suborninator, that?
    – Listenever
    Oct 13, 2014 at 20:25
  • @Listenever The difference between the examples in your comment is that in (1), "what she'd briefly known with him" is a noun phrase, while in (2) "what I heard was a mountain lion" is a clause.
    – user230
    Oct 13, 2014 at 20:27
  • Thank you. And though they are different: one is a phrase the other a clause, they are both in apposition with their former nouns, aren't they?
    – Listenever
    Oct 13, 2014 at 20:35
  • @Listenever Would you like to question separately this?
    – user8712
    Apr 19, 2015 at 19:48

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