I don’t have access to CGEL, but I am reading Huddleston & Pullum (Yes, the 2005 ed.). They categorize this in “This is infuriating” as a fused determiner-head. I think I understand their reasoning and I accept it. But on the very next page (p. 99) they categorize what in “What do you want?” as a pronoun functioning as a head. I think I understand that too. But I don’t understand why they treat this and what differently in the respective sentences.

My understanding of their view on this is that there’s a fusion that could be split up into this thing or something like it. But the same splitting could be done to their what example: What thing do you want?

So I checked their test(s) for pronounhood, but unfortunately all they address is distinguishing pronouns from other nouns.

In their discussion of what they mention that as a pronoun it’s non-personal and as a determinative it’s “neutral with respect to the personal vs non-personal distinction.” I’d say that here too this acts the same: *This just invited me to dinner doesn’t work, but This professor explains things clearly does.

So, am I missing something? Besides the determiner this, what’s wrong with saying there’s also a pronoun this? In their this example they describe it as belonging to the flavor of fused determiner-head that they label as “special,” but I don’t see anywhere where they explain that label. Could that be a clue?

(Of course, the same thing would go for that.)

  • I agree that their explanation is inadequate, particularly as "what" can in fact be a fused determiner-head in, for example, "I don't like what she wrote", where "what" is simultaneously determiner and head.
    – BillJ
    Sep 2 at 7:56
  • @BillJ It gets mind-bogglingly confusing, but the what in I didn't like what she wrote is not a fused determiner-head, it's a fused head-prenucleus. Sep 2 at 8:54
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Yes, it's important to distinguish fused relatives and fused determiner-head NPs. But I still think H&P's explanation in SIEG is inadequate.
    – BillJ
    Sep 2 at 9:04
  • @BillJ I agree. It's not wrong, but it needs unpacking a whole lot to be a) convincing and b) coherent. Have they change it for the 2nd ed? Sep 2 at 9:06
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. I haven't got a copy of SIEG2 But I'm aware of a few inconsistencies with SIEG1 / CGEL, which I've discussed at length with GKP. He agrees, and says he'll get them corrected in the first reprint. It's apparent from the little I've heard/read that RDH has made little input in SIEG2, but then you and I know why.
    – BillJ
    Sep 2 at 9:20

1 Answer 1


In their discussion of what they mention that as a pronoun it’s non-personal and as a determinative it’s “neutral with respect to the personal vs non-personal distinction.” I’d say that here too this acts the same

No it does not. Compare:

  1. This guy appears to be in charge.
  2. This appears to be the guy in charge.
  3. What guy appears to be in charge?
  4. * What appears to be the guy in charge?

(1) and (2) are both correct. This is usually non-personal when used without a following noun, since we would typically use he, she, or they instead. But it can be used to refer to a person, as (2) shows.

On the other hand, while (3) is correct, (4) is not. When what is used on its own, it is always non-personal, making (4) incorrect (with the relevant interpretation). So (4) can't be seen as a fused determiner-head, since what has a different meaning here than it does as a determiner.

Edit: There is a further complication here, as Huddleston & Pullum note on p. 904. What can occur as a predicative complement with the ascriptive be, as in Araucaria's "If Mitch is the ringleader, what is Alphabet?" example. Here the expected answer is not a referential noun phrase denoting a person, so this does not violate the general rule.

  • If Mitch is the ringleader, what is Alphabet? (Devil's advocating for a sec). Sep 2 at 7:43
  • 1
    Your examples there aren't really parallel there. For (4) to parallel (1), you'd need "What is the guy buying groceries". Can you come up with some parallel examples? Sep 2 at 9:02
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Your counterexamples have successfully confused me.
    – alphabet
    Sep 2 at 13:25
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. OK, I was able to answer the "ringleader" issue.
    – alphabet
    Sep 2 at 13:47
  • 1
    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. I was also able to come up with some parallel examples that I believe work; the new version of (4) uses a raising verb, which avoids the predicative complement interpretation because you can't raise a predicative complement into a subject.
    – alphabet
    Sep 2 at 14:12

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