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    • Join Date: Jan 2008
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    #1

    Question Why should "be" be here?

    Hi all,

    I'm an Japanese English teacher. I have a question about a seemingly exceptional order of "be" in a sentence.

    I encountered the following phrase on the Internet the other day:
    "If the world ended tomorrow, what would be your last meal?"

    Will you tell me why this "be" can be placed ahead of the subject? This position of "be" seems natural to native speakers of English as I got far more hits for this sentence in Google than when I put "be" after the subject though the latter sentence should be grammatically correct.

    Folks, where should "be" be placed to sound natural? And if you think the same as Google says, why do you feel it's natural? What makes it allowed to be exceptional?

    - Ricky319
    Last edited by ricky319; 10-Jan-2008 at 18:21. Reason: mistake in grammar

  1. heidita's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Why should "be" be here?

    Be actually follows the subject, as "what" is the subject .

    Carrots would be your last supper.


    • Join Date: Jan 2008
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    #3

    Re: Why should "be" be here?

    Hi heidita,

    Thank you for your reply. Your answer made my mind clear. I must have overlooked this basic, being distracted by the unreal conditional in the sentence

    - Ricky319

  2. Grablevskij's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: Why should "be" be here?

    No, I don't agree.

    The reason is that this is a special question related to the subject. And in this case a direct order of words is used. Like in a statement.

    Who is reading a book?
    What is lying.
    What book is lying on the table.

    Michael

  3. rewboss's Avatar

    • Join Date: Feb 2006
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    #5

    Re: Why should "be" be here?

    Ooh, it's complicated...

    You see, "be" is a special verb.

    All verbs have a subject: many common verbs also have one or more objects. Objects and subjects do not (normally) refer to to the same thing:

    Peter would read the newspaper (if he had time).

    "Peter" and "the newspaper" are clearly different things; "Peter" is the subject, and "the newspaper" is the object.

    When we form a question, we can replace the subject with a question word (or "interrogative pronoun"). In that case, we don't actually change the word order:

    Who would read the newspaper?

    But if we replace the object with a question word, we must change the word order and swap the subject and the auxiliary verb, as well as putting the question word first in the sentence:

    What would Peter read?

    But now consider this:

    Peter is an American.

    "Peter" is the subject, but what is "an American"? You might think it's the object, but if you think about it, "Peter" and "an American" both refer to the same person. So it's a kind of half-object, a not-quite object that's also the subject. This strange half-subject half-object state is one of many reasons people sometimes argue about whether we should say "It is I" or "It is me".

    So we put "be" in a special category all of its own: we call it a "cupola", and instead of an object, we say it has a "complement".

    And as a cupola, "be" follows its own rules.

    Take this sentence:

    Your last meal would be chicken and rice.

    "Your last meal" is the subject, and "chicken and rice" is the complement. But we could write it differently, with little change in meaning, because the subject and complement refer to the same thing:

    Chicken and rice would be your last meal.

    That might change the emphasis of the sentence, but it doesn't change the meaning. We have two sentences that mean the same thing.

    Now, for each sentence, let us replace "chicken and rice" with "what".

    In the first case, "chicken and rice" is the complement. We follow the same rule we follow when replacing an object with a question word: the question word goes first, and then comes the auxiliary verb, followed by the subject and the main verb:

    What would your last meal be?

    In the second case, "chicken and rice" is the subject. Now we simply replace the subject with the question word, and we don't need to change the word order:

    What would be your last meal?

    Let's study these sentences again:

    Peter would read the newspaper -> What would Peter read?
    Your last meal would be chicken and rice -> What would your last meal be?

    Peter would read the newspaper -> Who would read the newspaper?
    Chicken and rice would be your last meal -> What would be your last meal?

    As I said, it's complicated. But in effect it means this: With "be", in a question with a question word and an auxiliary verb, you often have a choice where to put "be".

  4. Grablevskij's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: Why should "be" be here?

    What about other verbs?

    Peter goes to Chicago, eats chicken and rice.

    According to your rule I should use inversion.

    But my rule above is explains the matter Ok.

    Who goes to Chicago?

    Michael


    • Join Date: Aug 2006
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    #7

    Re: Why should "be" be here?

    Bm


    • Join Date: Jan 2008
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    #8

    Re: Why should "be" be here?

    Hi Michael,

    Your explanation that the question related to the subject makes the order different seems easier for me to understand. Thank you for your help!

    -Ricky319


    • Join Date: Jan 2008
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    #9

    Re: Why should "be" be here?

    Hi rewboss,

    Thank you for your reply. Interrogative pronouns are sometimes killers for English learners. I agree with you basically, and Michael's explanation would complement the point.

    To all (if you have a chance to see this thread again),

    Let me confirm one thing. I first got confused with the sentences in question because I'd been thinking of "My last meal would be XXX" and then encountered "What would be your last meal?" as its interrogative. Why the complement can be shifted to the subject position?

    There may be a rule, such as when the sentence is "S + 'be' + C," and when you want to replace C with an interrogative to make a question, C can be switched to S and S to C.

    I am Ricky.
    Who are Ricky?
    Who are you?

    Julia is a student?
    What is Julia?
    Who is a student?

    -Ricky319


    • Join Date: Jan 2008
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    #10

    Re: Why should "be" be here?

    Hi riverkid,

    Sorry if it's a naive question, but what does Bm stand for?

    -Ricky319

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