Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I understand that when I report a question, I put the subject back in front of the verb, as in: "He asked if she was going to be late."

But I always get puzzled when it comes to reporting a question with a question. (In fact I'm not even sure this is reported speech, but I think it is, because I'm reporting my own doubts.)

My starting point is the question:

What is the task for the afternoon class?

But now I want to ask if anyone in a group knows what the task is. Which of the following alternatives would be grammatical?

(a) Does anyone know what is the task for the afternoon class?
(b) Does anyone know what the task is for the afternoon class?
(c) Does anyone know what the task for the afternoon class is?

Intuitively, I would pick (c), but I don't know if that is the correct choice, and I certainly don't know why.

Can anyone tell me which of the options is correct and why?

share|improve this question

1 Answer 1

All three versions occur, though they don't falute the same.

  • (c) is the canonic source, with simple Wh-fronting, leaving is at the end of the sentence:

    does anyone know [the task for the afternoon is what]? ==>

    does anyone know [what the task for the afternoon is]?

  • (b) is a further variation on (c), with the prepositional phrase for the afternoon, which modifies task, moved (by the rule of "Extraposition from NP") from right after task to the end of the sentence.

    does anyone know [what the task for the afternoon is]? ==>

    does anyone know [what the task is for the afternoon]?

    In this position, it balances the is. This is an esthetic improvement, not a grammatical one. English doesn't like long complex sentences that end with is (like (c) -- the effect is rather like hearing the first two musical notes of a 3-note chord progression; you keep waiting for the other note to drop.

  • (a), on the other hand, is a variant of (c) with Subject/Auxiliary Inversion performed, the same way it would be on a real, non-embedded, information-seeking question. It's not proper written English, but is very common in speech, where it has an additional pragmatic usage to signal that the speaker really does want an answer to the question, and not just a Yes or No. (Notice, by the way, that this also has the effect of keeping the is away from the end of the sentence, which is another reason it occurs so frequently.)

    does anyone know [what the task for the afternoon is]? ==>

    does anyone know [what is the task for the afternoon]? (Tell me, please; I really need to know)

share|improve this answer
    
+1 for falute. But shouldn't it be "falute to the same height"? –  StoneyB Dec 5 '12 at 23:03
1  
That's perfectly cromulent, given that it's an Up/Down metaphor. –  John Lawler Dec 5 '12 at 23:05
1  
i really appreciate your answer mr lawler, im the type of person that needs this exact type of explanation to really understand something. you couldnt have done it any better. thanks a lot –  fay Dec 5 '12 at 23:45

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.