What were they doing differently that had led to this dramatic improvement?

I saw a sentence having the same structure as the one above. But I am not sure that this sentence is grammatically correct. I would like to know your opinions.

The "that" in the sentence seems a relative pronoun, but where is the antecedent? When I speculate what it says, the antecedent could be the "what". Is it possible?

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    Might help if you point out the specific bit you feel is wonky. – Huey Sep 26 '15 at 4:35
  • At face value, this sentence looks fine. It could definitely use some more context though. – Sculper Sep 26 '15 at 4:43
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    You speculate correctly. "That" refers to thing being asked about with "what.' – deadrat Sep 26 '15 at 6:04
  • The Wh-clause -- more specifically, its answer -- is the antecedent of that (or which), the subject of had led. The answer itself is indefinite, and amounts to a pro-verb do what. Clearly it's not a noun but an action. The Wh-clause itself is an NP, though, so it can take a relative clause. – John Lawler Sep 26 '15 at 15:25
  • The tenses are reversed. s/b "What had they been doing that led to this dramatic improvement? – Brian Hitchcock Sep 27 '15 at 7:28

Yes, that_ is the antecedent of the relative clause, which is shifted by "heavy clause extraposition".

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  • Thank you. So then, you could say "What that surprised you did they do?" – 243 Sep 26 '15 at 16:49
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    You could say it, but to me What did they do that surprised you would be more natural. – Colin Fine Sep 27 '15 at 18:08

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