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Is it correct to use the phrase "It was always a question for me..." ? For example, "It was always a question for me that no one liked the cake." or "It was always a question for me why no one liked the cake."

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    Try instead "It always puzzled me" or "I've always wondered".
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 9, 2015 at 10:35
  • It is certainly not incorrect. English is not so restrictive as you might think.
    – Robusto
    Mar 9, 2015 at 11:19
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    "It was always a {mystery/conundrum/puzzlement} to me." It always seemed {curious/odd/unfathomable} to me..." Of course, as Robusto said, neither of your phrasings is wrong grammatically. But if it was always a "question", why couldn't you have asked it and gotten an answer? Mar 10, 2015 at 3:46
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    I would say something closer to "It was always a mystery to me that no one liked the cake."
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 8, 2015 at 20:44

3 Answers 3

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To me, the wording

It was always a question for me that no one liked the cake.

is somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, it seems to be expressing the same idea as

"It was always a question for me why no one liked the cake."

—where the speaker/writer clearly indicates that no one liked the cake and directs his or her attention to the question of why the cake was so unpopular. But on the other hand, one might interpret the wording "It was always a question for me that..." as meaning

"It was always a question for me whether no one liked the cake."

—where the opinion of the assembled eaters toward the cake is not settled and, indeed, is the main thing that the speaker/writer is wondering about.

The problem with the "that" wording, it seems to me, is precisely the difficulty that Brian Hitchcock points out in a comment above: Whereas the "why" and "whether" wordings delineate a question to be answered or a pair of alternatives to be weighed, the "that" wording presents the hearer/reader with what appears to be a fact and then characterizes it as a question.

As Dan Bron notes in another comment above, the statement-as-question complication vanishes if you replace "was always a question for" with "always puzzled":

It always puzzled me that no one liked the cake.

Here, the implicit question is clearly "why"—not "whether"—no one liked the cake.

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In stead of "it was always a question" you could substitute the similar "I always questioned".

"I always questioned why no one liked the cake."

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It's technically not incorrect, but it feels stilted and awkward as a sentence. There are two obvious alternatives:

  • it always puzzled me that nobody liked the cake
  • I've always wondered why nobody liked the cake

The first implies a mysterious situation that is beyond your current understanding (it's an idle speculation), while the second also implies some curiosity about finding out what the reason for it was.

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