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The grammars I've seen state that dependent clauses never undergo inversion. This agrees with sentences like

Tell me where he is.

But how sentences like

Tell me, where is he?

should be analyzed? Isn't where is he a dependent clause in this case?

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migrated from linguistics.stackexchange.com Apr 10 '13 at 12:25

This question came from our site for professional linguists and others with an interest in linguistic research and theory.

By "inversion", do you mean Subject-Auxiliary Inversion? And -- alas -- most grammars are really, really, terrible when it comes to rules like this. They're almost never correct, and they never deal with exceptions. You shouldn't trust them. Sorry. – John Lawler Apr 10 '13 at 4:15
This should probably be moved to ELU.SE. – John Lawler Apr 10 '13 at 4:16
I wouldn't otherwise point this out, but since it has some relevance, you'd probably want to know. It should be "But how should sentences like [...] be analyzed?". – dainichi Apr 10 '13 at 14:33
up vote 3 down vote accepted

"Where is he" is an independent clause. The subject-verb inversion is because it's an interrogatory independent clause. There wouldn't be a question mark if it were a dependent clause, since the main clause would be imperative. The sentence has two independent clauses without a conjunction. In most cases this would call for a semicolon, but when the first clause is a short imperative one introducing a question, a comma is used. A well-known complicated example is found in the US national anthem: "Oh say, can you see by the dawn's early light ..." and so on through a labyrinth of subordinate clauses.

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I'd write it with a colon:

Tell me: where is he?

I would consider the tell me as a way for the speaker to introduce a question. Similar to how we use so to indicate a change of topic. (I forget the grammatical term.)

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