What is/are important are not your mistakes, but how you respond to them.

Which option makes more sense grammatically?

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    Native speakers would tend to use "is". What is important is not your clothes and your possessions but your character. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 7 '15 at 13:58
  • @TRomano I think gramatically you need and "is" in the first "is/are" pair. I'm struggling to figure out the actual reason other then the "What is important" is a figure of speech meaning essentially "Don't worry about thing A which seems bad instead worry about thing B which is the more important consequence." The other "is/are" pair (not asked about the OP but which you changed to "is") can be both though no? – DRF Jul 7 '15 at 14:56
  • @DRF: What are important are... is avoided, to be sure. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 7 '15 at 15:48
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    I conceptualize mistakes as a subject complement (a completer of the subject after a linking verb) rather than an object (a recipient of action). There are other systems which use these labels and define sentence parts differently. The OP does not start with what is important as a subject, but asks which word should follow what. Whether the complement is singular or plural will certainly influence the main verb in the sentence then: Who is nice is that user, AmD. Who aren't nice are those users who disagree with Jim Reynolds. No?? – Jim Reynolds Jul 8 '15 at 8:41
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    @Jim Reynolds In this case that grammar is a little more difficult than I thought. I see. Thanks for your comment. – user18856 Jul 8 '15 at 11:01

Neither of them make sense, grammatically, because mistakes is plural and how you respond is singular.

If we are forced to make a choice between the two, the best option would be to use is, because it's less of a stretch to consider mistakes as a collection (that is a singular set of mistakes), than it is to try to justify writing What are important is (or are) how you respond . . . .

I would personally not be comfortable writing mistakes is in this context, however, at least not in and I'm a pretty liberal grammarian (sometimes even a grammamatician). In conversational speech, it's the kind of thing many of us do without many others noticing or caring much.

The better option would be to re-write around the problem, for example:

 It is not your mistakes that are important, it is how you respond to them.

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