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  1. engee30's Avatar
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    #21

    Re: I thought I couldn't start a question using how to

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    It's not that you can't. It's that we don't usually say it, and we certainly don't write it.
    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    [...] Non-sentences like "How to bake a cake?" do not have a finite verb [...]
    Sometimes, the inner you takes over you and lets you go with the flow.

  2. Raymott's Avatar
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    #22

    Re: I thought I couldn't start a question using how to

    Quote Originally Posted by engee30 View Post
    Sometimes, the inner you takes over you and lets you go with the flow.
    Indeed. If this were a psychology or psycholinguistics forum, further comment might be warranted.

  3. Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    #23

    Re: I thought I couldn't start a question using how to

    Quote Originally Posted by engee30 View Post
    It looks to me like another strange peculiarity of English grammar.

    You can say something like this:
    Why not ask her out? (general) or Why don't you ask her out? (specific)

    You cannot say: How to reset a password? (general), but you can say: How [do you/shall I] reset a password?
    Or you cannot say: What to do now? (general), but you can say: What [do I/you/we|shall I/we] do now?

    In all of the cases above, it's a question word + infinitive construction. So what's the problem then?
    I don't know if it's peculiar to English, but in English you need a subject noun. "How to reset a password?" doesn't have one. "How do you reset a password?" does.
    I'm not a teacher. I speak American English. I've tutored writing at the University of Southern Maine and have done a good deal of copy editing and writing, occasionally for publication.

  4. engee30's Avatar
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    #24

    Re: I thought I couldn't start a question using how to

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    I don't know if it's peculiar to English, but in English you need a subject noun. "How to reset a password?" doesn't have one. "How do you reset a password?" does.
    In Why tell lies?, there is no subject noun, yet it's correct to say and write like that.

  5. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #25

    Re: I thought I couldn't start a question using how to

    engee30 - I agree it's a bit confusing.

    There are two ways to understand what we mean by 'question'.

    Why tell lies?
    Really? Now?
    He said what?
    Want another?
    And the point is?


    These are all questions in terms of pragmatics but not in terms of grammar.

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    #26

    Re: I thought I couldn't start a question using how to

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Oh, come on! The people who post questions here do not have perfect English. That's why they come here!

    "How to" can only start a sentence if it's part of a noun phrase:

    - How to speak English well is the topic of almost all the questions posted here.
    But that's not a noun phrase; it's an interrogative complement clause. The sentence means "The answer to the question 'How does one speak English well?'" is the topic of almost all the questions posted here".

    Interrogative complement clauses can function as subject, but it is comparatively rare.
    Last edited by PaulMatthews; 25-Apr-2016 at 20:15.

  7. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #27

    Re: I thought I couldn't start a question using how to

    Quote Originally Posted by PaulMatthews View Post
    The sentence means "The answer to the question 'How does one speak English well?'" is the topic of almost all the questions posted here".
    Of course that's one way of understanding this. The phrase How to speak English well does not necessarily imply a question, just a way of doing.

    I mean, if I make a video entitled How To Fix A Puncture, it's because I want to show a way to do it. There doesn't have to be a question first, does there?

  8. Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    #28

    Re: I thought I couldn't start a question using how to

    Quote Originally Posted by engee30 View Post
    In Why tell lies?, there is no subject noun, yet it's correct to say and write like that.
    That's a great point.

    This isn't a strong explanation, but it's the best I can do: In informal English, there are often unspoken words that are understood. For instance, "Thanks" is a sentence because we understand it to mean "You have my thanks."

    Likewise, "Why tell lies?" can be taken to mean "Why should we tell lies?"

    It's harder to find unspoken words that would complete "How to reset a password?"

    Again, this is about informal English. In strictly formal English, neither "Thanks" nor "Why tell lies?" is likely to be used.

    Hope that helps! (That's informal English for "I hope that helps!")
    I'm not a teacher. I speak American English. I've tutored writing at the University of Southern Maine and have done a good deal of copy editing and writing, occasionally for publication.

  9. engee30's Avatar
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    #29

    Re: I thought I couldn't start a question using how to

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    This isn't a strong explanation [...]

    It's harder to find unspoken words that would complete "How to reset a password?"
    How about 'How ought I to reset a password?' - looks and sounds great to me.

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    #30

    Re: I thought I couldn't start a question using how to

    Quote Originally Posted by engee30 View Post
    How about 'How ought I to reset a password?' - looks and sounds great to me.
    It works! We'd be more likely to say something like:

    - How do I reset a password?
    - How can I reset a password?
    - How do you reset passwords?
    - How are passwords reset?
    - What do you do to reset a password?
    - How are passwords reset?
    - How do passwords get reset?

    It doesn't have to be a question, either. We might say:

    - Tell me how to reset a password.
    - Tell me how you reset passwords.
    I'm not a teacher. I speak American English. I've tutored writing at the University of Southern Maine and have done a good deal of copy editing and writing, occasionally for publication.

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