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Microsoft Word has underlined a question I typed starting with "why not." Something along the lines of:

Why not walk to the hall every morning before the sun has risen and while the streets are empty?

According to Word, this is a non-standard question.

Is it correct in a semi-formal article that's intended for the Internet audience? I thought it was standard enough.

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    Rule 1: Never ever accept what Microsoft Word tells you about grammar. In fact, turn the grammar checker off. The spell-checker is right most of the time; the grammar checker is wrong too often.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 10, 2013 at 9:40

4 Answers 4

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It's a "non-standard question" (whatever they actually mean by that) in as much as it starts "Why not", which would make it into a rhetorical question — one which either doesn't actually require an answer or to which you will supply the answer.

Unfortunately, automated grammar checkers can only cope with a limited set of rules; and they flag items which might require your attention (like this, perhaps) in the same way as things which really do require changing.

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  • Would you suggest I keep it? Another member commented that it sounds awkward to his ear. Is this somehow an awkward question? The only other alternative I can think of that is equal in meaning would be to start with "How about walking to the . . ." Oct 10, 2013 at 9:51
  • There's nothing wrong with a rhetorical question; they are a perfectly valid rhetorical device. Presumably you will follow it with an answer, like "You get to sort your thoughts out and there's a free coffee from Subway before 5am" or something similar. There was a UK children's TV programme in the 70s called Why don't you just switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead? -- the programme answered the question by showing lots of ideas on less boring things to do.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 10, 2013 at 9:56
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It's in fact a non-standard question. Kind of like a fragment. For instance, look at this.

"Taking into consideration a lot of things, I prepared for the worst. The worst thing of my life."

"the worst thing of my life" is not a sentence, although I have used it as a sentence. In the same way, a how-to question such as "How to work in a ship?" is not a standard question. It should be rephrased as "How do you work in a ship?" Now, it has the proper subject and verb as required by a question or a statement. In the same way, "why not do it?" is not a properly formatted question. It should be "Why do you not do it?" "Why do you not work with him?" etc.

Hope you get my point.

However, in Internet, we see such nonstandard questions all the time. So I suppose, in modern grammar, it's perfectly acceptable. Word may still flag it. Heck! word still flags end-of-sentence prepositions and starting sentences with 'and' or 'but'.

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It does sound a bit unnatural to me as a native speaker.

"Why not..." is somewhat, err, carefree in the asking. It, to me, implies that you don't have anything better to do.

I would consider the following alternatives, although of course each one changes the meaning of the question slightly:

"Why don't we walk ..." or "Why don't I walk ..." if you're in conversation with someone. This is more of a rhetorical question, though, and might expected to be answered.

"There's no reason to not walk to the ..." is a little lengthier, and is a statement instead of a question. However, this also makes the sentence totally unambiguous and "proper English". Similarly, you could just say, "I walk to the hall..." or some variation on that non-question form.

I would say that your current sentence would be totally fine for a semi-formal article, although if you post a bit of context I'd be happy to check how it fits.

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  • As a non-native it sounds perfectly fine to me. Like a headline or advert. "Why not try our delicious cake?"
    – mplungjan
    Oct 10, 2013 at 9:51
  • Hmm... I suppose. Really I think it depends on context - totally alone like it is now, it sounds a bit off. Oct 10, 2013 at 9:52
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    As a native speaker "Why not ...?" seems perfectly natural to me and I frequently use it non-rhetorically. "Now we cut the red wire..." "Why not the blue?"
    – user24964
    Oct 10, 2013 at 10:04
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    I think that OPs question is a lot more rhetoric - Why not take a deep breath? It refreshes your mind
    – mplungjan
    Oct 10, 2013 at 11:07
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    As a native speaker, the entire sentence sounds perfectly fine. Oct 10, 2013 at 16:55
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What does the end of the sentence mean ? That the streets are not empty yet ?

" ... and when the streets are still empty" would make sense.

And then, it seems correct.

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  • Ah, yes. I edited it to make it more clear. This isn't the actual sentence; just one I quickly typed out here to illustrate. Oct 10, 2013 at 9:50
  • -1 This is a comment - not an answer, as it does not address the main question.
    – TrevorD
    Oct 10, 2013 at 23:49

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