I searched Google Books for "what make you".


Here are some examples:

God answered and said "Jesus held everything in his hands and he was human, he held the heaven and the earth, the earth destroyed itself three times and Jesus still had compassion for it, so what make you so worthy to bring this news to me?" (The Next Level by Qweon Lee Drayton-Washington http://www.fictiondb.com/author/qweon-lee-drayton-washington~the-next-level~454899~b.htm)


Meanwhile, Baker was now holding a sawed off shotgun under the counter just in case Danny needed him for reinforcement. "What make you think that I would help you? Did you helped me when I went up?" Daniel boasted. (The Bridge Back: Sisters, Cousins, Foes and Lovers by Betty Ann http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Bridge-Back-Sisters-Cousins-ebook/dp/B0059HL63O)

Link to context


"Don't be different," we are counseled, "go along with the crowd. What make you think you have an inside track denied to the rest of us? (Speaking of Christianity:Practical Compassion, Social Justice and Other Wonders by Robert McAfee Brown http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/481424.Speaking_of_Christianity)


What make you think you are going to have a son, and why are you talking like you're not coming back, Isaiah?" Orabell said, hugging him tightly. (Our Time Has Come by Sylvester Stephens http://www.amazon.com/Our-Time-Come-Sylvester-Stephens/dp/1593090269)

Are these sentences using "what make you" grammatically correct?

  • 1
    All of those sound really weird (and wrong) to me. I also note that they all occur in dialogue, which is more likely to preserve dialectal quirks.
    – Wlerin
    Oct 4, 2014 at 0:54
  • 1
    @Wlerin: The first example is also dialectal. From the same source: "Everything was going fine in my life until my son die". There's enough instances of this on Google that it's probably common in some dialect; I don't know which one. Oct 4, 2014 at 1:25
  • 2
    The first two of these are self-published and appear to have errors of spelling and grammar on every page. The third stems from a respectable publisher; I suspect that make here is just a typo. Oct 4, 2014 at 1:37
  • 2
    @ivanhoescott: the first source contains "until my son die", the second "did you helped me", and the fourth "free, what make me free. I ain't got no place to live". The dialog in the fourth one is quite clearly in AAVE dialect (its characters are black), the first sounds like AAVE to me, and the second is dedicated to a black soul music group, The Dramatics. So, no, "What make you" is wrong in standard English, but appears to be part of the African-American vernacular dialect. Oct 6, 2014 at 1:07
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    I think the answer to the actual question can be found here Plural What. It's a bit of a high level answer, and includes info from vetted grammar sources, but its very clearly explained, imo :) Oct 8, 2014 at 19:24

2 Answers 2


Generally, no. At least, not in the standard dialect.

That is to say, when "what" is the subject of an interrogative clause, and the immediate context provides no indication of what quantity is expected in the answer, then "what" takes a singular verb. If "what" is instead the object, as in "What have you done?", or the old Shakespearean "What make you...", then the verb will agree with the true subject (in these cases, "you"), not with "what". If the verb is a form of to be, and the verb complement is plural, then the verb can agree instead with the complement.

Note: This only applies when "what" is used as an interrogative, and what it refers to is still unknown. It does not apply when the referent is known, as when it is used as a relative pronoun, e.g. "The stars are what light up the night." If the identity of the referent is still unknown, but its number (singular or plural) is known from the immediate context, then what can sometimes take a plural verb. It is rarely, if ever, required to do so, however.

For more information on this last point, and a slightly different take on the grammar of interrogative what, including citations from CGEL, see this answer.

  • That's just plain GR, isn't that?
    – Kris
    Oct 4, 2014 at 5:28
  • 3
    In today's standard English, the answer to the question in the OP's title is "yes". The interrogative "what" can sometimes be plural, w.r.t. subject-verb agreement. There is this example: "What are going to be the deciding factors?", and the info within this answer post includes excerpts from vetted grammatical sources: ell.stackexchange.com/a/31139/8758
    – F.E.
    Oct 4, 2014 at 5:54
  • @F.E. Thank you for that. I'm not sure that particular example is cogent: it sounds awkward, suggesting a disruption of word order for rhetorical effect. Supporting this, the near-identical "What are the deciding factors going to be?" feels much more natural, and here the subject is clearly factors, not what. The link does provide less questionable sentences, though.
    – Wlerin
    Oct 4, 2014 at 7:59
  • @F.E. Even if it didn't sound awkward, that verb in that sentence is a form of to be, which can agree in number with its complement. e.g. "What are they?"
    – Wlerin
    Oct 4, 2014 at 8:09
  • @F.E. I've modified my answer slightly to attempt to account for these exceptions, and would appreciate your input again. I've tried to err on the side of remaining succinct, though that's not exactly something I'm good at...
    – Wlerin
    Oct 6, 2014 at 0:58

Yes. Pronouns replace nouns. When the replaced noun is plural, "what" takes a plural verb, so it is a plural interrogative. Your first and second examples use the phrase "what make you" grammatically correctly. "Earth" is "you people of earth", so plural. The third example is less clear, but still seems to refer to a plural. The second example appears to be dialectical or perhaps substandard speech

  • 1
    It's an interrogative pronoun. You don't know yet what it's replacing. Second example is definitely dialectal, though ("Did you helped").
    – Wlerin
    Oct 4, 2014 at 0:58
  • I answered yes, because there are standard uses of "what" with a plural verb. Example: "What do you know?"
    – Theresa
    Oct 4, 2014 at 2:16
  • 2
    But in "what do you know?" the subject is you. Consider "what does he know?" where the subject is he. And in "what are the chief exports of Ruritania", the subject is "exports". I wouldn't say "what live in these holes", even though what is clearly standing for something plural there. Oct 4, 2014 at 2:33
  • 2
    I can envision an exchange like "These are broken." "What are broken?" Oct 4, 2014 at 3:02
  • 1
    That sentence is the same as: "These toy ships are doing what in the bathtub?" "What" is the object of are doing. When it is an object, there isn't really any way to tell what "number" it has. However, it is possible for "what" to be a subject, as in "What makes you think English is hard to learn?" and most (all?) of the time, in such cases, it is treated as singular.
    – Wlerin
    Oct 4, 2014 at 4:50

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