When you are famous(ish), you get to tap public wisdom, as science columnist David Pogue did on Facebook:
604 comments? I wonder if he knew this would be the opening volley in a grammar war.
Folks, you do not want to challenge grammarians. Especially the self-appointed kind.
First thing, stunningly obvious to anyone who actually reads, is how few people actually read. About 599 of the comments advised a rewrite to “He collects lawnmowers,” even after Pogue reminded folks in his P.S. that he wasn’t looking for a rewrite.
While it was fun to read the various opinions and the little squabbles, I don’t have to rely on opinion, I have an expert, in-house. I posted this:
My partner, who studied all this fancy English grammar crap in grad school, says: “What he collects” is a noun clause that acts as a singular noun. Google “noun clause” and you will have the expertise without her educational loans.
A day later, someone named Todd replied,
What I eat are oranges. Not, What I eat is oranges.
and kicked it up a notch by adding:
Oranges are what I eat.
My reply was heartfelt and completely honest:
But of course, I did not leave it there. After another expert consultation, I replied:
So, more consultation with partner. She says that even though it sounds funny to your ear (and mine), “What I eat is oranges” is correct. “What I eat” is a singular noun clause (srsly, Google that).
“Oranges are what I eat” is correct because you swapped the object and the subject. The subject (oranges) is plural.
For the English majors: “What I owe is educational loans” is correct, as is, “Educational loans are what I owe.” (She didn’t say that. That was me.) (But she did look through the thread and comment, “people are pulling stuff outta their ass.” I think that should have been “asses,” but that’s just me.
I know, doesn’t seem right; but it is.
And a few minutes later, added what (I think) will be my final word:
P.S. Most fun I have ever had on a grammar question.