# How is “Can anyone tell me how can I solve this” wrong?

I posted a question somewhere that said...

``````Can anyone tell me how I can solve this?
``````

...but someone edited it to...

``````Can anyone tell me how can I solve this?
``````

...and it was accepted.

That's wrong isn't it? Can someone explain how that's wrong?

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I agree that it's wrong... but I can't explain why... – feuGene Apr 1 '14 at 11:06
You were right and your editor was wrong. – StoneyB Apr 1 '14 at 11:06
The expression "how I can solve this" in your example is an embedded interrogative clause. Usually, when an interrogative clause is embedded, it does NOT undergo subject-auxiliary inversion (which it would if it had been the matrix clause). In other words, you were right to begin with. – F.E. Apr 1 '14 at 15:42
I'm guessing the editor was not a native speaker of English; but was overconfident of his English-speaking abilities. – GEdgar Apr 1 '14 at 21:50
Related and a possible explanation of the edit: english.stackexchange.com/q/68737/8019 – TimLymington Apr 1 '14 at 21:55

I posted a question somewhere that said:

• 1.) Can anyone tell me how I can solve this?

but someone edited it to:

• 2.) Can anyone tell me how can I solve this?

and it was accepted.

That's wrong isn't it? Can someone explain how that's wrong?

The difference between the two versions is that the subordinate interrogative clause has NOT undergone subject-auxiliary inversion in the first version (#1), but it has in the second version (#2).

The expression "how I can solve this" in your example is a content clause, which in your example is a subordinate interrogative clause. In general, a subordinate interrogative clause does NOT normally undergo subject-auxiliary inversion (which it would have if it had been the matrix clause -- notice the subject-auxiliary inversion in your matrix clause "Can anyone tell me . . .").

In other words, your version was fine to begin with.

But you might want to be aware that in fiction prose (and in some informal styles of discourse), that sometimes a subordinate interrogative clause might undergo subject-auxiliary inversion. E.g. "I wanted to ask the stranger how was I to solve this with merely a flashlight and a metal spoon?" (Aside: We fiction writers tend to often do that in the belief that it keeps the reader in closer to the story of the narrative.) But doing this in a formal register would probably be seen as being a grammatical error (i.e. non-standard grammar).

Because the subordinate clause starts with the word "how", the interrogative clause might be ambiguous as to whether or not it could be, or could also be, an exclamative clause. (An exclamative clause: "How big you have become!") But in your case, due to the matrix clause, the subordinate clause seems to definitely be only an interrogative clause.

The word "how" is not really a relative word (except for rare or non-standard situations), and so, the subordinate clause would not be a relative clause. Though, you might be interested to know that the word "how" could sometimes be used in non-standard prose. For instance, in CGEL, page 1053:

How does not belong to the class of relative words (except very marginally in the fused construction, &6.4), so we cannot have (*) "the way how she handled the situation". fn 8.

. . .

footnote 8: Some non-standard dialects differ; hence the line (!) "It ain't what you do, it's the way how you do it" in a rock 'n' roll song.

Though, the examples that CGEL gives for the fused-relative construction using "how" seem to me to be okay: pages 1076-7,

• (%) We will not change how we use future contracts during the term of this Prospectus.

• (%) I don't like how it looks.

Anyway, those examples are fused-relatives (which your example is not).

Note that CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

ASIDE: I just noticed,

That's wrong isn't it? Can someone explain how that's wrong?

That's the same type of sentence as the one you are asking about, as you probably already know and probably did on purpose. :)

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I chose this one as the correct answer even though it has less up-votes. I think the explanation has more grammatical insight. – Henrique Ordine Apr 2 '14 at 12:28

You were right and your editor was wrong.

Can anyone tell me X?

and you properly expressed X as a free relative clause, which always acts as a nominal constituent. You asked, in effect, if anyone could tell you an answer.

Your editor inverted the auxiliary verb and the subject of the free relative clause, transforming it into a free-standing question. Your editor asked, in effect, if anyone could tell a question, which is not idiomatic English.

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This is very much a stand-alone statement:

How can I solve this?

As you can see, this statement does not work by itself:

How I can solve this?

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So you're saying that "Can anyone tell me how can I solve this?" is right? – Henrique Ordine Apr 1 '14 at 13:22
No, sorry for being unclear, saying "Can anyone tell me how can I solve this" is wrong. – Joe Harper Apr 1 '14 at 14:04

Your initial question was perfectly formed.

The revised question, though understandable, is not English as she is spoke, at least, not in the UK.

The revised question actually contains TWO questions: Can anyone + how can I? I get the sense this is a translation from a native language syntax into English.

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There's a distinction between:

• tell me, [2ndary part of sentence follows] - emphasis is on tell me
• tell me how [main sentence goes on] - emphasis is on how

Imho, the guy who corrected your original version would be right, had inserted a comma:

Can anyone tell me, how can I solve this <- 2ndary is more stand-alone, and would sound bad in the form like "Hi, how i can find the market?" It must be "how can i".

Without the comma, there is no secondary part in the sentence, and you are right. It must be "tell me how i can"... :-)

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“Can anyone tell me how I can solve this?" should be correct because there is one question and one predicate subject inversion can anyone.

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