• 1a. "Can you please tell me what is the food choice for a vegetarian?"

Why is there no inversion in the example above? I mean, why did the native English speaker who wrote the example not do it like this:

  • 1b. Can you please tell me what the food choice for a vegetarian is? or
  • 1c Can you please tell me what the food choice is for a vegetarian?

I have been taught that, whenever we ask an indirect question, we have to switch the inverted word order in the direct question to normal sentence order as follows:

    1. Where is the nearest hospital?(direct question)
  • 2a. Can you please tell me where the nearest hospital is? (indirect question)

So could you please explain to me why this change in the order of words doesn't happen in the original example (written by a native speaker)?

2 Answers 2


The inversion has become optional in colloquial English. In the first example you give, there is also a special reason for not inverting: with inversion, a comparatively long and complicated phrase appears in the middle of another constituent. "the food choice for a vegetarian" comes inside "what ... is". Such constructions are difficult to understand and are often avoided in English.

A similar example is "Does that the Moon revolves around the earth at the same rate as it rotates on its axis surprise you?"

Susumu Kuno first studied this phenomenon in English systematically.

  • Thank you very much for your clear and helpful explanation.
    – Luke
    Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 21:29
  • I should have said that in your example there is inversion in the embedded question, where in an older style, there would not be inversion. It's the version without auxiliary inversion which is more difficult to understand.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 22:08

You need to find out which is the "subject" and "complement" in a sentence.

In the case of 1."Can you please tell me what is the food choice for a vegetarian?", either what or the food choice can be the subject, i.e.,

What is the food choice for a vegetarian. The food choice for a vegetarian is what. (Both can be regarded as a declarative sentence.)

Note: What is an "interrogative pronoun" and it can function both as a subject and a complement.

In the case of 2 Where the nearest hospital is,

Note: Where is an "interrogative adverb" and it can not function as a subject. That's why the sentence should be inverted in an indirect question.

Hope it helps.


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