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Lets consider the following:

The book doesn't explain, "What's the wisdom behind education?"

Changing this to an indirect question becomes the following:

The book doesn't explain what the wisdom behind education is.

Now, I found many instances on Google where structures like this weren't really converted to indirect questions. For example:

The book doesn't explain what's the wisdom behind education.

"[She] doesn't say what's really on her mind."

Edit:

And consider the following:

What's the logic behind it.

(a) I wonder what's the logic behind it vs. (b)I wonder what the logic behind it is.

(a) sounds better but why? And are these constructions acceptable?

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Your example is a little confusing to me. Do you mean (a) The book doesn't ask, "What's the wisdom behind education?" or (b) The book doesn't answer, "What's the wisdom behind education?" (When I initially read your first quote, I assumed you meant (a), but after I read the second quote, I began to wonder if you meant (b) instead.) As for the third way you phrase it, that may be an acceptable construction, but it still reads awkwardly; I'd be inclined to get rid of the "what's", and use a more precise verb than "say": "The book doesn't explain the wisdom behind education." –  J.R. Sep 14 '12 at 10:35
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@J.R.: Fixed those.Thanks for the input. Sorry for not properly analyzing them. –  Noah Sep 14 '12 at 10:40
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5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Grammatically speaking, the last two examples are quite different. In the first example, what substitutes the predicative

The wisdom behind education is something.

What is the wisdom behind education? (question is about the predicative)

I don't know what the wisdom behind education is. <-- correct

I don't know what is the wisdom behind education. <-- too colloquial, unacceptable in formal writing.

Now, in the second example, what substitutes the subject.

Something is on her mind.

What is on her mind? (question is about the subject)

I don't know what is on her mind. <-- correct

I don't know what on her mind is <-- incorrect

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So if I say: what's the logic behind it, should it become: I wonder what's the logic behind it, or I wonder what the logic behind it is. The first sounds better to me, but I cant untangle the grammatical details. –  Noah Sep 14 '12 at 10:48
    
@Noah: You should use the second. It's the same pattern as your example –  Armen Ծիրունյան Sep 14 '12 at 10:55
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@Noah: You should say I wonder "What's the logic behind it?" or I wonder what the logic behind it is. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 14 '12 at 13:45

The difference between embedded and non-embedded questions is that, while normal Wh-questions must undergo Subject-Auxiliary Inversion, in certain cases,

-- though, note, only in those cases; we'll return to this point later --

  • What did the man eat?
  • *What the man ate?

embedded Wh-questions normally don't in these cases.

  • I don't know what the man ate.
  • *I don't know what did the man eat.

However, this distinction is moot in

  • I wonder what's on her mind.

because this is not one of those "certain cases" in which Subject-Auxiliary Inversion is required. The case where it is required in normal Wh-questions is the case in which the Wh-questioned word is the subject of the question.

Swapping the verb with the subject is designed to put something other than a normal NP at the beginning of a question to show that it's a question. In a Yes/No-question, that's the auxiliary verb. But in a Wh-question, there's also a Wh-word, which is a question marker all by itself, and when it's the subject, it's already at the beginning of the question, marking it as a question.

So, in that case, as Armen points out, no inversion is necessary in a normal Wh-question

  • What's on her mind?

and therefore it's not necessary either in an embedded Wh-question

  • I don't know what's on her mind.
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There's an inconsistency in the preamble. One has to be very careful when converting a quote structure to a report structure:

The book doesn't say, "What's the wisdom behind education?"

Changing this to an indirect question becomes the following:

The book doesn't ask what the wisdom behind education is.

This conversion largely preserves sense, but even now, the reported version may be an inaccurate statement while the quote version may be an accurate if pedantic one - the actual wording in the book might be "What is the wisdom behind education?", for instance.

Addressing the problem about the grammatical (rather than semantic) correctness of various report structures, the tendency is for much less rigid rules to be deemed necessary for both the wording and the punctuation, with the proviso that accuracy be maintained and ambiguity be avoided.

For instance, I've come across (on the web) examples of the use of bid and wish both as reporting verbs proper and quote verbs:

He bade us a fond farewell. He bade us welcome.

... bade us "Goodbye" [unusual]

She wished us a merry Christmas. She wished us Merry Christmas.

She wished us "Merry Christmas."

There may be other verbs used in both capacities. (Say appears to be, of course:

He said {that} she was going shopping. He said "She was going shopping."

but the meaning changes slightly.)

With the examples given, I'd say that

The book doesn't say what's the wisdom behind education. or The book doesn't ask what's the wisdom behind education. are clumsy elisions, better expressed as The book doesn't say what the wisdom behind education is. or The book doesn't ask what the wisdom behind education is. (the difference is now obvious).

However, "[She] doesn't say what's really on her mind." is quite acceptable grammatically, in fact the accepted idiomatic expression. Though I'm struggling to think of the related quote version.

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+1 for the first four paragraphs alone... –  Alexander Kosubek Sep 14 '12 at 11:02

As for the question edit:

What's the logic behind it.

(a) I wonder what's the logic behind it
(b) I wonder what the logic behind it is.

(a) sounds better but why? And are these constructions acceptable?

(b) is correct. In fact, I used to have the same doubt, then I found this:

How's he handling the issue. (similar sentence structure)

(a) I wonder how's he handling the issue
(b) I wonder how he's handling the issue

It's not exactly the same, but it made me grasp the concept easily.

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OK... Consider this:

  • I wonder what´s the language they speak. (among many languages)
  • I wonder what the language they speak is. (sounds weird once nobody needs to define language)

It helps me grasp...

[Edited for layout]

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Or more simply: I wonder what language they speak? –  Andrew Sep 22 '12 at 5:51

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