2

What is the right word order in sentence:

What would be the further steps?

or

What would the further steps be?

4
  • 1
    Either, though both are apt to be a hair awkward when placed in a larger context.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 12, 2015 at 21:48
  • ("Be" -- arguably the simplest word in the English language -- is a dangerous word to use, as it can very easily carry the sentence spinning out of control.)
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 12, 2015 at 21:54
  • @HotLicks, why are they awkward in a larger context? And how large should it be to make the sentence awkward? Mar 13, 2015 at 5:03
  • It's simply that when you add a few more qualifying phrases the "be" becomes ambiguous or leads to awkward sentence construction, since it's hard to tell what is "being" what.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 13, 2015 at 11:23

3 Answers 3

3

They are both grammatical, but "What would be the further steps?" has a stylistic edge, because the alternative has a slightly complicated phrase, "the further steps", embedded within two parts of the same construction: "would ... be". Having a complicated phrase embedded within parts of a higher level phrase causes some difficulty in comprehension. Such constraints were first explored by Susumu Kuno, and they are discussed in several places in McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English, which also gives references to Kuno's earlier work.

Haj Ross in his dissertation, Constraints on Variables in Syntax, proposed a transformation, Heavy NP Shift, to move complex NPs that are "trapped" between a verb and the particle that goes with it. E.g., "He looked all the addresses between here and the train depot up."

As the embedded phrase becomes more complicated, the comprehension problem gets worse, and it becomes stylistically more urgent to move the complex constituent to the end, to get it outside the parts of the larger construction. Compare:

What would the further steps be?
What would the further steps which the chairman has recommended be?
What would the further steps which the chairman of our esteemed board of directors has recommended be?

1

The previous answer is correct. However, I would suggest changing the word "further" to "next."

What would be the next step?

What would the next step be?

1
  • Yeah, I think that "next" is a better choice, too, but the general public does not appear to agree, until very recently. But "next step" swamps both: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 12, 2015 at 21:52
0

They are both right - the difference is in the way the words are introduced.

In (1), we start 'what would be', which means we have been told that something is about to happen, or has happened, but we don't know what until you tell us,

In (2), we start 'what would the next steps', which means we know that it's something to do with progress, but we don't know what.

So it depends on the context I guess.

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