Tag Archives: “What it is is”

It is what it is is

When readers write in and ask me to air their peeves in this space, I try to oblige.

What I’ll call the double-is has come up at least twice here—and it bothers me as well—so let’s get it out there.

“The problem is is . . .” “The thing is is that . . .”

I began hearing this about 10 years ago and it’s still going strong.

I even hear, “. . . was is . . .”

Now let’s be careful to not put a false ban on the double-is because there are times when it is correct, such as when the first “is” is part of clause; or when “is,” in quotations, is used as a noun.

Correct:  “What the problem is is a lack of understanding.”
Incorrect: “The problem is is a lack of understanding.”

The first one is correct because “what the problem is” is a clause. Think of it this way:  The clause stands for one word. It is the subject of the sentence, and it just happens that the cause ends with the same word as the verb in the sentence. (I suppose you could insert an illegal comma in between the two, but I wouldn’t recommend it.) 

“The problem is is” is incorrect because “the problem ” is the subject and “is” is the verb. Only one verb is needed.

Somewhere along the way, people began to confuse the two, and started packing and extra “is” either for emergencies or, as is often the case, to sound more intelligent. Listen for it.

Or, if a visual would help, watch this explanation:

Now if we could only get the people we know who do this to read this blog, Sigh.

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