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Can you tell me which of the following sentences is grammatical?

"Could you tell me where the bank is, please?" "Could you tell me where is the bank, please?"

And please, explain why. Thank you in advance.

marked as duplicate by Peter Shor , FumbleFingers, Robusto, tchrist, ermanen Feb 22 '15 at 17:59

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  • User 111407 Welcome to EL&U. ). I've submitted an edit for clarity and given it a catchier title. Good luck. – Centaurus Feb 22 '15 at 14:42
  • The first would be the usual order in the US. – Hot Licks Feb 22 '15 at 14:42
  • It's a structure called indirect questions, if the the phrase already contains an auxiliary or modal verb, then there is no need to invert the second auxiliary verb with its subject. E.g. "Do you mind telling me what the time is, please?" and "Do you know what time the banks are open?" and NOT "... are the banks open?" See Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Mari-Lou A Feb 22 '15 at 14:52
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    A clearer and simpler explanation: bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/radio/specials/… – Mari-Lou A Feb 22 '15 at 14:58
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    "Where is the bank, please? Could you tell me?" works, so I can't find fault with "Could you tell me – where is the bank, please?" – Edwin Ashworth Feb 22 '15 at 15:09
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The second one is not strictly grammatical, for the reason that it repeats the interrogation of the sentence.

I can say Where is the bank? or Could you tell me where the bank is, please?.

Both of those are questions. But if I say Could you tell me where is the bank, I am placing a double interrogation, in the forms of Could you and where is. So it tends to sound awkward in English.

Having said that, it is a mistake that non-native speakers frequently make. I have particularly noticed it in the speech of other Europeans. Because it is a small error, and everyone understands you, people will not normally correct you. That may be one reason why the mistake persists.

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"Could you tell me where is the bank, please?"

is an Untag construction. (I've just made up this theory, so don't take it as authoritative.) It's from

"Where is the bank, could you tell me please?"

by a mysterious process that restores the tag to the complement structure that the speaker imagines it must have been derived from. Except he forgot to uninvert the "is" auxiliary, which is a telltale sign that the "where" was really supposed to come at the beginning of the sentence.

It's similar to an example reported by Jerry Morgen,

I think the Yankees lost the pennant, didn't they?

where the tag shows us that the sentence really starts with "The Yankees ...", and the "I think" has just been stuck on as an afterthought.

  • +1 for the "untag" question, which I think is not an "error" made exclusively by English learners. I'd say that in speech, such a construction would be easily missed and/or ignored. – Mari-Lou A Feb 23 '15 at 11:34
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English (normal, non-pidgin English) is a language with a strong DIE-DRY (Duplication is evil - don't repeat yourself) principle.

The accepted structure of an English question is exemplified by
  • Do you know {<statement> | <statement fragment>} ?
  • Do you know {where the house is} ?
To ask a question about a question
  • Do you know if {she did ask "where is the house?" } ?
  • Do you know if {she asked "where is the house?" } ?
This is evil ...
  • Do you know <direct question> ?
  • Do you know {where is the house?} ?
  • Do you know if {did she ask "where is the house?" ? } ?
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The construction "where the bank is" is a noun clause equivalent to "the location of the bank". The questioner is asking to be told something - the location of the bank. Within a noun clause the order is subject before verb, so "where is the bank" is not a noun clause, but a question.

The second sentence can be made grammatical by the addition of a comma: "Could you tell me, where is the bank, please?", because then the phrase beginning with the word where is no longer the direct object of the verb tell. Instead, the comma turns the first part of the sentence into a perfectly permissible bit of throat-clearing before the question proper, "where is the bank?".

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