"What you see is what you get". In this sentence, there are two noun clauses: 1. What you see, and 2. What you get. Obviously enough, it's a complex sentence. I want to know which one is the independent clause, and which one dependent?

  • No! "What you see" and "what you get" are not clauses but noun phrases in fused relative constructions. Compare "The thing that you see is the thing that you get".
    – BillJ
    May 1, 2019 at 6:41
  • @BillJ Phrases don't have a subject and predicate. Here, both group of words have a subject and predicate each. How can they be phrases?
    – user343802
    May 1, 2019 at 6:52
  • The first NP "What you see" ("the thing that you see") is the subject, and the second NP "what you get" ("the thing that you get") is the subject complement. Are you familiar with fused relative constructions?
    – BillJ
    May 1, 2019 at 6:55
  • @BillJ No. But how can a phrase have subject-predicate combination?
    – user343802
    May 1, 2019 at 7:18
  • 1
    No: strictly speaking, it's not a simple sentence because it contains two embedded relative clauses as modifiers of the 'fused' heads "what". Relative clauses are, of course, subordinate (dependent) clauses.The main clause is the sentence as a whole. I've posted an answer with a tree diagram, which should make things clearer.
    – BillJ
    May 1, 2019 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


Tree Diagram of 'fused' relative construction, showing that both the subject and the predicative complement are NPs containing an embedded relative clause.

The pronoun "what" functions simultaneously as head of the NPs and object (in pre-nuclear position) in the relative clauses.

  • Many thanks @BillJ for the detailed explanation.
    – user343802
    May 1, 2019 at 16:14
  • @user343802 You're welcome. I realise it's a complex tree -- in fact it's quite advanced grammar -- but it does help to show that there is an NP (noun phrase) each side of the main verb "is", one serving as the subject and the other as complement of "is". The 'fusion' is in the word "what", which serves simultaneously as head (main word) and the relativised element in the modifying relative clause.
    – BillJ
    May 1, 2019 at 16:34
  • +1 How did you make that tree?! May 4, 2019 at 0:27
  • @Araucaria Are you around?
    – BillJ
    May 4, 2019 at 7:56
  • 1
    @Araucaria Done. Something I forgot to mention in my email: To copy the Word document, you have to use the mouse to highlight it and then paste into Paint. Good luck!
    – BillJ
    May 4, 2019 at 11:20

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