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I think these two questions are ok to use with Should & Shouldn't and it's same meaning

can you tell me why to do? = can you tell me why I should do? can you tell me why not to do = can you tell me why I shouldn't do?

"can you tell me why to do?" this means only can be "can you tell me why I should do?" ?

what if I want to use them as below

can you tell me why to do? = can you tell me why I do? can you tell me why not to do = can you tell me why I don't do?

is it possible?

Thanks in advance :)

  • 1
    "Can you tell me why to do the dishes" sounds distinctly wrong to my native English ear. "Can you tell me why I should do the dishes" sounds far better. – scohe001 Jul 9 '15 at 21:41
  • Why cannot be used to introduce a wh-infinitive; Can you tell me what to do, how to do it, where to do it, when to do it, who to do it to, all fine; but not *Can you tell me why to do is ungrammatical. English wh-words are complicated. – John Lawler Jul 9 '15 at 21:43
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You have not given complete sentences beginning with capital letters. Therefore I feel free to add to your examples a little in A.

A.

Can you tell me why to do? (incorrect)

Can you tell me why to do it would be wrong? (possible but not idiomatic)

Can you tell me why I should do? (incorrect)

Can you tell me why I should do it? (correct and idiomatic)

B.

can you tell me why to do? = can you tell me why I do? (incorrect and not equivalent)

can you tell me why not to do = can you tell me why I don't do? (incorrect and not equivalent)

1

The whole construction of the question is overly verbose. When you ask a question looking for an answer, the entire sentiment of "can you tell me" is implied. Let's remove it.

As mentioned in a comment below, this does not make the question any more/less correct. The reason we remove extraneous content is to reduce the risk of misidentifying the portion of the question that contains the error/confusion.

  1. why to do?
  2. why not to do?

There is no object in these questions, so let's add one and see what happens:

  1. why to do my homework?
  2. why not to do my homework?

There's also no subject in these questions, in which case, the implied subject is the person being asked, in other words "you". In this case, I'm going to assume that you mean for the subject to be your self, so:

  1. Why I to do my homework?
  2. Why I not to do my homework?

The question is obviously very confusing at this point. What form should the answer take? I think in this case you want reasons why it would be beneficial to do/not do whatever it is. That's what should means. You can replace the word should with "would it be beneficial if":

  1. Why should I do my homework?
    1. Why would it be beneficial if I do my homework?
  2. Why should I not do my homework?
    1. Why would it be beneficial if I don't do my homework?

The confusion in the original case comes from lack of subject and object, but when we add those, tense becomes harder to deduce. 'To do' means future or hypothetical, so you may be asking 'why will I do my homework?' (a question only you can answer), or 'why would/should I do my homework?' (clearly hypothetical).

  • While it’s true (as John Lawler’s comment above says) that why cannot introduce wh-infinitives, it’s not sound to claim the lack of a subject is problematic when you yourself have just removed the bit that enables the lack of a subject (or would have, if it had been another wh-word instead of why). But there’s no reason at all to remove “can you tell me” to begin with – it’s a perfectly common way of making a question more polite or, paradoxically, more confrontational. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 24 at 18:12
  • Thanks Janus, I clarified why I prefer to remove that portion. As to the rule mentioned by John, it is indeed correct. However, understanding that rules are in place to enhance common understanding is essential. Working through the question the way I have, you can deduce the existence of such a rule. On the other hand, knowing the rule, it is still difficult to deduce how it might be useful for improved understanding. – Zeal Jan 25 at 17:57

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