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Can I say "What are there to think about?" instead of "What's there to think about?"?

In this sentence, can I say what's even though I'm referring to answers, which is plural?

"Hey, I've noticed that some of the answers on your answer sheet are wrong. Do you mind if I use what's on hers instead?"

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  • Although colloquial I'd say that that just highlights it not being particularly good English - better would be 'those', or 'those that are', or 'the answers that are'. 'What's' here is contracting 'the answers what is', which is terrible grammar, it just sounds a little less awful contracted.
    – OJFord
    May 8, 2021 at 15:14

1 Answer 1

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Short answer: what are there to think about is wrong; what's on hers is right.


When what is used substantively, that is, as a noun, as opposed to an adjective, it can only be singular and have a singular verb if it is the subject. In what's there to think about, it is used substantively, so you can't replace is with are. You would have to turn it into an adjective to do so:

What things are there to think about?

Here what functions like an adjective modifying the (substantive) noun things.


What can refer to something vague, like "everything on her answer sheet": when you use what, you don't always need to refer back to a specific word. In your clause what's on hers instead, the vague reference is perfectly fine. What are would not be correct.

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