What the World Needs Now:
Practice with embedded questions as subjects

J_LebedevJennifer Lebedev

In Jennifer Lebedev’s post, she writes, “I realize that the title of my post can be read more than one way. I actually meant the title to follow the pattern of many of my other posts: title of activity + targeted language point. What resulted was an unintended proclamation that the world needs more grammar, specifically practice with embedded questions! Well, that’s not wholly inaccurate. Many people do indeed need more grammar practice.”

The activity that I’m sharing today resulted from a question a YouTube viewer posted on my channel. I realized that in my videos on embedded questions I hadn’t adequately addressed the nature of these noun clauses when used in the subject position. In most cases, embedded questions will take a singular verb, like any subject that refers to a singular idea.

  • How much I love grammar is likely clear by the number of posts I have on this subject. [subject = embedded question]
  • Studying grammar is every teacher’s responsibility. [subject = gerund phrase]
  • That grammar can be confusing even to teachers is no surprise. [subject = noun clause with that]

However, what-clauses behave differently. At the prompting of that YouTube viewer, I came up with examples to recall the patterns:

  • What we need are people with communication skills.
  • What we need is a person with strong communication skills.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find confirmation of this pattern in any of my reference books, so I turned to Stacy Hagen, who restored my peace of mind by confirming that I was on the right track. A huge thank you to Stacy for clarifying that a what-clause + BE followed by a plural noun calls for a plural verb. She added that the rule should be observed in formal English. I see this behavior of  what-clauses as similar to “There…” in the subject position.

  • There is a need for clarification.
  • There are no books in my library that helped me.
  • There is a clear pattern here.
  • There are always patterns when you open your eyes and look for them.

The only thing left to do was to confirm these findings for that student and come up with a fun way for other learners to gain practice with embedded questions in a subject position. I hope you, too, will enjoy using the song What the World Needs Now Is Love and my What the World Needs Now_handout.

By the way, when I searched on YouTube for recordings of Dionne Warwick singing this tune, I found one with clear audio and one with a wonderful comment posted by a viewer: “Great song, great singer. What the world needs these days are more of both.”

Orignially posted on June 11, 2013 by Jennifer Lebedev  englishwithjennifer