English Grammar

That or What?

> GymGlish wrote : 'Xavier taught Bruno all THAT he knew about herbs and flowers'.

> I understood : 'Xavier taught Bruno all WHAT he knew about herbs and flowers'.

I asked GymGlish Support. They persisted with the only curt explanation : 'WHAT wouldn't make sense here!.'

As a result I'm still at sixes and sevens with that weird 'that'.


  • Hi Jean-Pierre,

    In attributive relative clauses (1a,b)) the English has only "who whom which and that" as relative pronouns, whereas "what" can be found in nominal relative clauses (2).
    "that" is more often used after "all", "any", "everything"... then which (1b).
    (1a)The girl who/that claimed
    (1a) The fog that/which rose
    (1b)Is there anything that you haven't read?

    (2) He was staring at what he thought was a boat.
    (2) What I like about this beach is...
  • Well, well,
    Could it be related to the idiomatic expressions "and all that" meaning, from what I understand.... and everything else he knew about.... ?
  • No toumaï, the idiomatic phrasal adverb "and all that" is for "and so on", "and the whole caboodle", "and all that jazz". It's an adverb.

    Gwendo showed herself as an expert for having that issue down to a science.
    She speaks of nominal relative clause: it is a relative clause running as a noun.
    Ex: Tell me the story.
    Tell me what happened [what happened = the story (noun)].
    Tell me "that which" happened. The pronoun "what" contains in itself the antecedent pronoun (that) and the relative pronoun (which) as well.

    Xavier taught Bruno all that he knew.
    "all" is here a pronoun, not a determiner. "that he knew" is a simple relative clause.

    Xavier taught Bruno what he knew.
    "what" is for "that which"; "what he knew" is a nominal relative clause. "what he knew" is a clause that has the function of a noun.

    That wasn't all that bad to meet again with Jean-Pierre whose great wit was used to solve every problem that was bringing us at sixes and sevens. (Thank you for the idiom, you there, Jean-Pierre).

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