Climate change is thus a prime example of what people have called a "social ecological system" with factors from different domains interacting on different spatial and temporal scales.

The above sentence is a part of an exercise in my English course. I was asked to change this sentence to passive voice. So, I made it like this.. Climate change is thus a prime example of what has been called a "social ecological system"...

My question is what is the function of what (after a prime example of...) in this sentence? Is it a subject of noun clause or is it a pronoun of social ecological system? This is really confusing to me. Please help explain.

Thank you so much.

  • 1
    I think it is a (dummy) relative pronoun. – Lawrence Mar 11 at 9:12
  • Thank you, Lawrence. But what does it mean by a dummy relative pronoun? – Loukpad Chan Mar 11 at 9:15
  • Here’s a link to an article on relative pronouns. The “dummy” part may be redundant or perhaps inaccurate; it refers to words like “it” in “it is raining” - they are there just to keep the grammar happy, not to convey information. – Lawrence Mar 11 at 9:21
  • 1
    It's an example of [the type of phenomenon that] people have called a 'social ecological system'. – Kate Bunting Mar 11 at 9:33
  • 'Testing and tracing has been fit for purpose' is an example of what have been called 'terminological inexactitudes'. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 11 at 11:12

Syntactically, "what" is a direct object. To realize this, replace "what" with "many things', for example.

"She has been called many things".

"Many things" is also a direct object.

Some people might consider that "what" or "many things" in the sentences above are not direct objects but "predicative" constructions, especially if they consider that the verb "call ..." by itself doesn't provide enough meaning to the sentence (i.e., it is working as a "linking" or "copulative" verb).

But I don't think that is the case.

Semantically, "what" is an interrogative pronoun.

BTW, "what" is not a relative pronoun in that sentence.

In order to be a relative pronoun, it should have been linking an inner sentence with the main sentence, in a "relative capacity".

For example, in the sentence:

She was called what I suspected she would.

"what" is a relative pronoun.

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