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I was writing something on Reddit, and I was casually checking my writing when I realized I had forced myself into a particularly strange situation.

I was making an argument where I first established a term of art, and then defined what that term of art did not mean as a way to establish what the term of art actually meant.

However, when I went to finish the argument, I got the phrase:

"What X actually is is..."

where X is the subject.

Is this actually correct? Is the word "is" repeated after the phrase? The phrase

"What X actually is..."

doesn't seem correct. It seems like it is missing a verb.

Related-to, but not answered-by, this question. (The answers provide a name, but contradict each other on whether the usage is grammatically-correct, which is the premise of my question.)

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What X actually is is a clause that functions as the subject of some such sentence as

/What X actually is/ is this thing that you can only see with a microscope.

Here is another example of a clause functioning as the subject of a sentence:

/The guy who cuts Tom's hair/ lives downtown.

You can use both of them as direct objects of I don't know...

I don't know /what X actually is/

I don't know /the guy who cuts Tom's hair/.

That the word is appears twice in a row in the sentence you ask about may seem disconcerting at first, but it is not unknown.

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It seems to be grammatical, according to the following logic:

"What X actually is" is the subject; the second "is" is the verb.

Forget "actually" as unnecessary, and consider this sentence:

What X creates is an image in the mind.

"What X creates" is the subject; the verb is "is".

A comparable sentence would be "What X forms is a circle."

"What X is is an image in the mind" is awkward, hard to parse, but grammatical.

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