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Swan says that when we want to emphasize a verb we can use the structure like:

what ... do

For instance,

What he does is to write a book.

My question is about the sentence:

What the Standard says is ... 'something what it says'.

Is the sentence gramatically correct? I mean shouldn't have we said

What the Standard does is to say the ... 'something what it says'.

instead?

  • Both are OK depending on what "the Standard" is, and the emphasis as you mention. Also "something what it says" probably should be "something that it says". – user3169 Jan 3 '15 at 5:25
  • @user3169 The standard is a technical document here. – Dmitrii Bundin Jan 3 '15 at 5:34
  • I think you need to add clarification on what you want to know. Your question seems to contain multiple questions. – CoolHandLouis Jan 3 '15 at 9:43
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What the standard does is (to) say (that) widgets are better than gidgets.

One would avoid saying/writing that because it's redundant. Using "does" indicates an overall effect or achievement. The following variant using "say" is sometimes found, but is also considered poor style because they are too wordy:

  • Poor: What the standard does is (to) establish a common size for doors. (to is optional)
  • Poor: What the standard does is it establishes a common size for doors.
  • Better: The standard establishes a common size for doors.

Attributing the action of "saying <something>" to inanimate objects like a book or a standard is mostly informal. It's discouraged in formal registers. Here's an example:

  • Poor (or Informal Speech): What the Standard says is (that) doors should be a certain size. ('that' is optional)
    Better (still informal): The Standard says that doors should be a certain size.
    Best (or "Formal"): According to the Standard, doors should be a certain size.

Here are some more examples:

  • Poor: In her article, what Thompson said is (that) all good things come from sincerity. ("what" and "is" are wordy)
    Better: In her article, Thompson said, "all good things come from sincerity." (Direct quote.)
    Better: In her article, Thompson said that all good things come from sincerity. (Only if it's a paraphrase.)

  • Poor: In her article, what Thompson did was (to) summarize the nine major belief systems.
    Better: In her article, Thompson summarized the nine major belief systems.

The proper use of the what...do form is rare. Here's an example of it's proper usage:

  • Good: In her seminal paper on anthropology, what Thompson did was to virtually reshape all modern thinking on the topic. And that changed the course of history--both forward and backward!

Note how the above (fictional) sentence indicates what the paper "did" in terms of it's overall effect rather than state what the paper was written about. The following actual comment found on Facebook also uses the form for good emphasis:

  • "David Belle even says himself, parkour was never created. Parkour is the art of human motion, it has always existed, but what he did was revolutionize the art form and modernize parkour."1 [Bold emphasis added.]

1. (Comment, January 2, 2011 at 3:09pm, by Anthony Rosas, on TakeFlight Company facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/TKFLT/posts/143105472410827.)

  • @BrianHitchcock Thanks for the edit! Unfortunately, I had to cut it out because it was really just a bad example from the start. I cut out a lot of other stuff too. – CoolHandLouis Feb 26 '15 at 8:55

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