The Grammarphobia Blog

What and what not

Q: I sometimes hear people use “what” where I’d expect “that.” For example, “I need to make a list of the things what I want to buy,” or “This is the book what he gave me.” Is this acceptable? It sounds horribly wrong to me.

A: No, your instincts are right and those sentences are wrong. They could correctly be written as follows:

(1) “I need to make a list of the things that I want to buy.”

Or: “I need to make a list of what I want to buy.”

(2) “This is the book that he gave me.”

Or: “This is what he gave me.”

Buy Pat’s books at a local store or Amazon.com.