Saturday, 1 October 2011
All I want is OR are...?
This is quite interesting. Intuitively, I'd say 'is' because I remember the song,"All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth"! But, remember my "Lay down, Sally" post? So, I decided to check up on cleft sentences, as these structures are grammatically called.
Michael Swan in Practical English Usage (3rd Edition 130.1-130.5) says "We can emphasise particular words and expressions by putting everything into a kind of relative clause except the words we want to emphasise... The words to be emphasised are joined to the relative clause by is/was and an expression like the person who, or what".
What I smelt was burning tyres.
What I wanted for Christmas was my two front teeth.
'What' can be substituted by 'all' in these cases, and it means "everything" or "the only thing". More examples:
All the students asked for was less of grammar and more of situational dialogues.
All we did at the weekend was swimming and reading.
Michael Swan went on to say "A what-clause is normally considered to be singular; if it begins a cleft sentence it is followed by is/was. But a plural verb is sometimes possible before a plural noun in an informal style."
In other words, @beth0513, we can also say, albeit informally,
All I smell are burning tyres!
I love a grammar challenge, so if you have one, send it to me!