My friend and I were discussing whether the following sentence is grammatically correct or not..

The sentence: What is to give light must endure burning. -Viktor Frankl

Is this sentence grammatically correct?

He says that the use of what is incorrect but I have a feeling it is otherwise.

English is our second-language so this might explain our confusion.

  • It's grammatical, but it sounds like an old-fashioned way to express this. Compare Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803—1882) "whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist." Nov 26, 2022 at 19:02
  • Thank you for your answer. Nov 26, 2022 at 19:10
  • 1
    What means that which here. That which is to give light must endure burning. Related. Put another way, If it's going to give light, it must endure burning. Nov 26, 2022 at 19:12
  • I’d phrase it “He who gives light must endure suffering.” Or “One who gives …” Or a la Eliza Doolittle: “Them as gives …”
    – Jim
    Nov 26, 2022 at 19:32

2 Answers 2


Is it grammatical ?

Think about it like this :
"What is to give light must endure burning"
"What exists to give light must endure burning"

Eg : The Sun Exists only to give light to us. It must necessarily endure burning.

Is it easy to read , in contemporary terms ?
No or Debatable.

  • Here, be + infinitive means — roughly — is expected to [verb]. Not exists to [verb]. What is expected to give light must endure burning. Nov 27, 2022 at 3:38

It may perhaps be more plainly phrased as “that which is to give light must first endure suffering”. But yes this is grammatical. “is to give light” is used here as something akin to a future active participle clause meaning “something that is going to give light”.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.