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Which of the following sentences is correct in the formal context? Both? If possible, please also explain why each of these sentences is correct/incorrect.

I do not know where the best place to ask this question is.

I do not know where is the best place to ask this question.

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1 Answer 1

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The first one is correct in formal and informal contexts. The second sentence would not be used by a native speaker.

The reason is that there is a difference in the way that English handles wh-words, when they are in the main clause vs. when they are in the embedded clause. The structure also depends on whether the wh-word is the subject or the object in its clause.

In the main clause, we use the basic order: wh-word verb ______

Where is the best place to ask this question?

This is true when the wh-word is the subject or the object, although you'll notice we use do-support when the wh-word is the object (when the main verb is not is):

  • Who told you that? (who is the subject, no do-support)
  • Who did you tell? (who is the object, use do-support)

When the wh-word is inside of an embedded clause, the verb doesn't move to the front of the clause; only the wh-word moves. For example:

  • I was wondering [who told you]? (corresponds to "who told you?" in main clause)
  • I was wondering [who you told]? (corresponds to "who did you tell?" in main clause)

(In other languages, this pattern is not the same; it is an arbitrary feature of English.)

Since where is the object in this case (and usually is in general), it follows the second pattern, so: "I do not know where ... is".

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Thanks! To make sure that I understand the answer, do you mean that the “where” in the question “Where is the best place to ask this question?” is not the subject but the complement? –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 7 '10 at 15:40
    
"Where" is the object (and not the subject, as you say). –  Kosmonaut Nov 7 '10 at 15:43
    
Thanks. I will probably accept your answer, but I will wait for any other answer for a day just in case. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 7 '10 at 15:48
    
+1 for the interesting answer but I can't help noticing that the English construction is very... Germanic: 1/ Direct Wo ist der beste Platz, um diese Frage zu stellen?" 2/ Indirect "Ich weiß nicht, wo der beste platz, um diese Frage zu stellen ist ". –  Alain Pannetier Φ Jun 17 '11 at 20:49
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I know it's horribly prescriptivist of me, but: "Whom did you tell?" and "I was wondering whom you told?" I can still hear the nuns when I close my eyes... NO! Not the ruler, I'll get it right next time! –  MT_Head Jun 18 '11 at 5:22

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