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  1. #1
    sorkroto is offline Newbie
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    Wink I don't know "WHAT THE ANSWER IS"

    Hi everyone! I am an English learner from Korea.
    I have trouble understanding this structure. I remember learning it from a language school a year ago, but I forgot the name of the structure. I believe it was "indirect" something.

    1) I don't know WHAT THE ANSWER IS.
    (So, after the first clause, the object and verb change order. I myself use this structure a lot, but could somebody please tell me why we use this reversed order?)

    2) I can't say WHICH WAS MY FAVORITE ONE.
    (One of my American friends used this sentence in a text message, but I don't understand why in this case it is not "Which my favorite one was." I thought it was just like "I don"t know what the answer is", or "I wonder who that was.")

    3) I wonder who did this = I can't say which was my favorite one ?
    (After the first clause, there comes the same relative pronoun AND a verb. So can I say both are the same in structure? Or are those just completely different matters?)

    4) I wonder who did this & I wonder who that was ?
    did(v), was(v). But why in the first sentense verb comes first and in the second verb comes later?

    I graduated my language school a while ago and I don't have someone who I can ask these tricky questions... I've been dying to know the answer! Could English grammar masters here please scratch my back???? I will thank you for ever and ever!!!!!
    Last edited by sorkroto; 15-Dec-2010 at 20:59.

  2. #2
    2006 is offline Banned
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    Default Re: I don't know "WHAT THE ANSWER IS"

    Welcome!
    Quote Originally Posted by sorkroto View Post
    Hi everyone! I am an English learner from Korea.
    I have trouble understanding this structure. I remember learning it from a language school a year ago, but I forgot the name of the structure. I believe it was "indirect" something. Maybe you mean that 1) is an indirect question.

    And speaking of 1), I want to just try helping you with one of your questions now to see if I am on the right track.

    1) I don't know WHAT THE ANSWER IS.
    (So, after the first clause, the object and verb change order. I myself use this structure a lot, but could somebody please tell me why we use this reversed order?)
    Do you mean, why doesn't the second part say 'what is the answer'?
    If so, we don't say 'what is the answer' in that sentence, because the underlined part is a direct question. And the whole sentence is not a question; it is a statement telling us that you don't know what the answer is. We should only use 'question grammar' when we are asking a direct question.
    2006

  3. #3
    5jj's Avatar
    5jj is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: I don't know "WHAT THE ANSWER IS"

    2006 dealt with your first question. I'll look at the second:
    Quote Originally Posted by sorkroto View Post
    2) I can't say WHICH WAS MY FAVORITE ONE.
    (One of my American friends used this sentence in a text message, but I don't understand why in this case it is not "Which my favorite one was." I thought it was just like "I don"t know what the answer is", or "I wonder who that was.")
    'I can't say which my favourite one was' is what you would expect, and is correct. However, when the verb is BE, the longer the grammatical subject, the more likely we are to put BE in the 'incorrect' position:

    I can't say which it was. - I can't say which was it. X
    I can't say which my favourite one was. - I can't say which was my favourite one. ?
    I can't say which my favourite moment in a stage play produced on Broadway was. ? - I can't say which was my favourite moment in a stage play produced on Broadway.

  4. #4
    lauralie2 is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: I don't know "WHAT THE ANSWER IS"

    The pattern is as follows.


    If the WH-word functions as the object of the verb or as a subject complement, then is occurs before the subject, as in 1) and 4):


    1) I don't know what the answer is.

    • verb "is"
    • subject "the answer"
    • subject complement "what"
      • e.g., The answer is what?


    4) I wonder who that was?

    • verb "was"
    • subject "that"
    • subject complement "who"
      • e.g., That was who?


    If the WH-word functions as the subject, then the WH-word occurs before the verb, as in 2) and 3):


    2) I can't say which was my favorite one.

    • verb "was"
    • subject "which
    • subject complement "my favorite one"
      • e.g., Which (of the books) is my favorite book.


    3) I wonder who did this.

    • verb "did"
    • subject "who"
    • object "this"
      • e.g., Who did this?


  5. #5
    sorkroto is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: I don't know "WHAT THE ANSWER IS"

    Thanks Lauralie2!
    I was reading your message over and over again to learn it better, but one question occurred.
    in 1) and 4), why are "the answer" and "that" subject instead of who and what?
    I was wondering why we have to make a sentence in this form "That was who?"/"The answer is what?". What is the reason? :)

  6. #6
    sorkroto is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: I don't know "WHAT THE ANSWER IS"

    Thank you fivejedjon for easy-to-understand examples!
    Now I get it! :)

  7. #7
    sorkroto is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: I don't know "WHAT THE ANSWER IS"

    Thank you 2006. Yes that was the word. Indirect question... duh! haha :)
    It seems so easy now that you broke it down for me :)
    Have a nice day and thank you very much!

  8. #8
    lauralie2 is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: I don't know "WHAT THE ANSWER IS"

    Quote Originally Posted by sorkroto View Post
    I was wondering why we have to make a sentence in this form "That was who?"/"The answer is what?" What is the reason? :)
    In other words, you're asking why I have interpreted 1) and 4) as 1a) and 4a) and not as 1b) and 4b), right?


    1) I don't know what the answer is.
    1a) ...the answer is what <subject>
    1b) ...what is the answer <subject>


    4) I wonder who that was.
    4a) ...that was who <subject>
    4b) ...who was that <subject>



    The answer is this. 1b) and 4b) are direct questions. They are formed by moving the WH-words 'what' and 'who' to the front of the clause as well as by inverting the subject-verb pair. It's a two-step process:


    Statement: That is Sam.
    Direct Question: Who is that?

    • The WH-word (who) is moved to the front
    • The subject-verb pair is inverted


    Note, 'Who is that?' is a direct question. The WH-word (who) has been moved to the front. Note also, 'who is that' does not come from ungrammatical *'Sam is that.'
    With indirect questions, the subject-verb pair is not inverted:


    Statement: That is Sam.
    Indirect Question: I don't know who that is.

    • The WH-word is moved
    • The subject-verb pair is not inverted


    Note, to make 'who' the subject, you would need to use a direct question:
    Direct Question: Who is that?
    Indirect Question: I don't know who is that.
    and to correct the error, you would need to invert the subject-verb pair:

    Indirect Question: I don't know who that is.
    Indirect question formation takes one step as in 1a) below, but efficiency isn't the key here since 1b) can be formed in one-step:


    1) I don't know what the answer is.

    1a) ...the answer is what <subject>

    • one step: WH-movement
      • what is the answer

    1b) ...what is the answer <subject>

    • one step:
      • i. WH-movement
        • what is the answer

      • ii. Subject-verb inversion
        • what the answer is


    While 1b) is possible, it's not likely. Subject-verb inversion is not a process used in forming other indirect questions, not even copular ones (i.e., 'who that is' from 'that is who'). Consistency is the key, not efficiency.


    In sum, indirect questions are not formed using direct questions.


    1) I don't know what the answer is.
    1a) ...the answer is what <subject>
    1b) ...what is the answer <subject; direct question>


    4) I wonder who that was.
    4a) ...that was who <subject>
    4b) ...who was that <subject; direct question>

  9. #9
    sorkroto is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: I don't know "WHAT THE ANSWER IS"

    I checked your second reply late. It was a wonderful explanation. Thank you very much!

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    Default Re: I don't know "WHAT THE ANSWER IS"

    Quote Originally Posted by lauralie2 View Post
    If the WH-word functions as the subject, then the WH-word occurs before the verb, as in 2) [...]:

    2) I can't say which was my favorite one.
    That is possible in BrE.' I can't say which my favourite one was' is also possible. Is it possible in Canadian English?

    Another question. If we replace my favorite one by it, the only possible order in BrE is 'I can't say which it was'. Is it the same in Canadian English, or can you say, 'I can't say which was it'. ?
    Last edited by 5jj; 25-Feb-2011 at 19:33. Reason: Additional question.

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