3

The normal word order for a wh- question in English is: wh- + auxiliary + subject + verb.

Hence the sentence below should be correct:

What might the consequences of the loss of diversity of plant genetic resources be?

However, it sounds a bit strange to me (I am not an English native speaker).

The following sentence sounds better, although according to the rule above it is incorrect:

What might be the consequences of the loss of diversity of plant genetic resources?

Which sentence is the correct one?

  • 1
    They're both correct, the difference being that, in the former, the consequences is the subject and, in the latter, what is the subject. – Anonym Nov 15 '14 at 18:44
  • 3
    "The rule above" describes one basic structure. It does not describe every possible variation. Syntax is not a matter of word following word; it's a matter of constituents and variations. In this case the constituent is the Verb Phrase might be NP, which can appear as well. The rule you quoted is deficient, in that it doesn't allow might be to count as "auxiliary". Whoever writes these rules has no idea what they're doing. – John Lawler Nov 15 '14 at 19:08
  • @JohnLawler: Thanks for your answer. This rule is taught to non-English speakers to help them learn to ask questions in English. I think it does a good job for many questions (Where do I go? What can you do? When will she arrive? etc.) but it may be too simplistic for more complex grammatical structures. So if I understand correctly in the second sentence the structure is: Subject (What) + Verb phrase (might be) + Noun phrase (the consequences...), i.e. a structure without the "traditional" subject-auxiliary inversion. Is that acceptable only in spoken English or in written English too? Thanks – David M. Nov 15 '14 at 19:41
  • 2
    No, the prepositional phrase is part of the verb phrase -- it's the predicate -- and the noun phrase is part of the prepositional phrase. The phrase train might be works best as a single auxiliary (afterall, its present tense version may be is already a single word in many constructions). The actual rule (explained in [the link(umich.edu/~jlawler/VPguide.pdf)) is that the first auxiliary verb inverts with the subject NP in actual (but not embedded) questions. The issue is whether might be can be considered a single (therefore first) auxiliary verb. Apparently it can. – John Lawler Nov 15 '14 at 20:42
1
  1. What might the consequences of the loss of diversity of plant genetic resources be?

  2. What might be the consequences of the loss of diversity of plant genetic resources?

In the first question, the subject is the consequences of the loss of diversity of plant genetic resources. The interrogative word what is the complement of the verb BE. Because it has moved to the front of the sentence it has triggered subject auxiliary inversion, and we see might change places with the subject.

In the second sentence, what is the subject of the sentence. The noun phrase the consequences of the loss of diversity of plant genetic resources is the complement of the verb BE. Because what is already at the front of the sentence, it doesn't cause any inversion.

In short both sentences are perfectly grammatical.

We can make the difference clear by showing the following in situ versions of questions 1 and 2:

1'. The consequences of the loss of diversity of plant genetic resources might be what?

2'. What might be the consequences of the loss of diversity of plant genetic resources?

Sentence 2' has the same word order as sentence 2, because what is already in the subject position. In sentence 1', however, we see what in a position that would have been filled by a specific value or word in the corresponding declarative sentence. It therefore looks quite different from 1.

0

What might the consequences of the loss of diversity of plant genetic resources be?

What might be the consequences of the loss of diversity of plant genetic resources?

I like #2 better. But it can be shortened. What are "genetic resources"?

What might result from the loss of plant genetic diversity?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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