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I know this sentence is correct:

In the 1980's the rate of increase of the minority population of the United States was nearly twice what it was in the 1970's.

So the part of the sentence I'm concerned with is the twice part. Correct sentence: The rate was twice what it was in the 1970s.

Why do I have to use the "what" here?

Can't I just say: The rate was twice it was in the 1970s.

That sounds incorrect to me, but I don't know why. Thank you for the help!

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    You're right: it is incorrect. This is a 'fused' relative construction where "what" is a pronoun (i.e. a noun phrase) functioning as head-prenucleus in the noun phrase "what it was in the 1970's. It can be paraphrased as "The rate was twice that which it was in the 1970's. A relative clause always requires a relativised element, either present or understood. – BillJ Mar 28 '20 at 18:07
  • Oh interesting. I'd never heard of that before. From my understanding, a relative clause represents a noun previous to it. However, here previous to "what" is "twice", not a noun. So is this a special type of relative clause? Thank you so much! – Sam Mar 28 '20 at 19:01
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    It's a fused relative clause I see. I'm reading about this now: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_relative_clauses. Thank you! – Sam Mar 28 '20 at 19:03
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    The antecedent noun and the relative word that refers to it are combined, or fused, into the single word "what". Think of "what" as meaning "that which", where "that" is the noun and "which is the relative pronoun. – BillJ Mar 28 '20 at 19:09
  • You might also say it was 'twice as it was'. – Elliot Mar 29 '20 at 3:32

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