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  1. #1
    Mjanedoe is offline Newbie
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    Default Question re. word order

    As a Brit. living in Germany I am often asked by the Germans "what means ..... in English", and I want to correct them and tell them that we cannot say "what means......in English" we have to say "what does.....mean in English" , but I cannot think how to describe the grammar behind it .
    "To mean" is a verb ...so why canīt we say " what means .."..I would really like to understand why in this case it has to be used with " to do ",so I can understand and can then correct my friends with a proper explanation behind it .
    Itīs driving me crazy, not being able to fathom it out !

    Many thanks for any help
    Melanie

  2. #2
    orangutan is offline Member
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    Default Re: Question re. word order

    Question formation in English involves (in most cases) the rule of Subject-Auxiliary Inversion (the subject goes after the auxiliary). If there is no auxiliary involved, as in the present and past simple, the auxiliary "do" is brought in. I find it helpful to mention to students that "do" can also be used in affirmative sentences, though this usage is rather marked in modern English: for example "it does mean" is an alternative to "it means" (only different in emphasis).

    In modern English, only auxiliaries (and the copula) undergo this form of inversion. (I include modals as auxiliaries.) This is in contrast to French, and also older forms of English ("where goest thou?").

    Afterthought: since you are living in Germany, it is easy for Germans to confuse English interrogative word order (Subj-Aux inversion, as described) with their own rule that the finite verb must come second, which also involves the postposition of the Subject in questions, but is of course not the same rule.
    Last edited by orangutan; 25-Jun-2009 at 12:25. Reason: addition

  3. #3
    Mjanedoe is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Question re. word order

    Many many thanks Orangutan !
    So relieved to have that clear in my head now and I am looking forward to be able to properly explain WHY we form the sentence like that instead of just saying " I donīt know why ..we just do "!
    thanks once again for your time.

  4. #4
    orangutan is offline Member
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    Default Re: Question re. word order

    Sehr gerne! :)

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