"What's it say" VS "What is it saying" or "What it is saying"?

Which one(s) is(are) correct?

Those sentences look a bit simple and I sometimes say any one of them but are they all grammatically correct?



They're all grammatical, but only two of them are complete sentences on their own.

  1. What's it say?  (What does it say?)

    This is a present simple question. It corresponds to "It says something."

  2. What's it saying? (What is it saying?)

    This is a present progressive question. It corresponds to "It's saying something."

  3. what it's saying   (what it is saying)

    This is an interrogative subordinate clause. It corresponds to "It's saying something."

    It's grammatical, but unlike example 2, it's not a complete sentence on its own. It can form part of a larger sentence, such as "Tell me [what it's saying]". That's why I didn't capitalize it or put any punctuation at the end—it's not a sentence.

There's one tricky point here. What's can be a contraction for three different things:

 what's he saying ← is saying  (progressive)
 what's he said   ← has said  (perfect)
 what's he say    ← does say (simple + do support)

Look at the following verb form to figure out whether what's is what is, what has, or what does.

  • I agree that "what it's saying" is not a sentence, but what makes it an interrogative subordinate clause? It seems to be usable as a nominative or objective NP. (What it's saying is a mystery. I don't understand what it's saying.) May 20 '15 at 5:56
  • Don't mix up function (Subject and Object) with category (noun phrase). This constituent has the form of an interrogative clause. It's not marked by inversion (subject-auxiliary inversion is a main clause phenomenon), so we can call it subordinate. It doesn't have the shape of a noun phrase, so it doesn't make sense to call it one. Instead, we can suggest there's functional overlap between different types of constituent. (Clauses don't inflect for case, so it doesn't make sense to mention accusative or nominative here.)
    – user230
    May 20 '15 at 6:17
  • Point taken about "nominative". I'm not so good on terminology. But I still don't understand how, without inversion, you can label "what it's saying" as interrogative. Would both clauses of "What you see is what you get." be considered interrogative? May 20 '15 at 6:35

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