• I want to know what the matter is with her.

  • I want to know what's the matter with her.

  • I want to know what's her problem.

Is "I want to know what's the matter with her" and 'what's the matter' incorrect as Cambridge dictionary suggests (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/matter). In their explanation it is suggested that the word 'matter' be replaced with 'problem' as is written in the 3rd example.

Thanks for whatever help you can provide on this.

I've read Rathony's link and agree that his link answered the question about inversion. Now my question is specifically about the correctness of using this wording and if it is correct is there a rule in its usage.

  • You can also visit here – user140086 Nov 4 '15 at 7:07
  • Rathony, neither of those are about 'what's the matter' or 'what the matter is'. They seem completely unrelated. – Revlis Lain Nov 4 '15 at 7:24
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    Rathony, neither of those are about 'what's the matter' or 'what the matter is'. While they deal with a WH question word fronting a noun clause they do not deal with the idiomatic usage question I posed, nor do they attend to question about reversing the sentence pattern: i.e., "what's the matter" vs. "what the matter is". The other aspect as I mentioned was that grammatical textbooks have said varying degrees of correctness about its usage. Longman and Swan saying it is okay, whereas Cambridge saying it is not. – Revlis Lain Nov 4 '15 at 7:30
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    Not a matter of cheering up. Just a matter of hoping to get help from someone so that I can finally put an end to the ambiguity of this puzzling structure. I'm not really here for a cup of tea, but I appreciate the positive encouragement. – Revlis Lain Nov 4 '15 at 7:35
  • Rathony, the inversion was answered as you mentioned in the other link. I missed it earlier. I still want to know about whether this wording is correct and have reworded my question to make it directed that way. Sorry about being hot-blooded, just really don't want my question ignored when it's been bothering me for a while. – Revlis Lain Nov 4 '15 at 7:43

{something/nothing} the matter with {someone/something} is an idiom. It doesn't mean only that you have a problem, issue, or "matter";

It means either "what's WRONG with you?" in an often-condescending tone, or "what seems to be bothering you? if spoken in a more compassionate tone.

The way this idiom is phrased as a question is:

  • What's the matter with [x]?

Even in an implied question, the pattern is the same: I wonder what's the matter with her.

In this latter construction, "what's the matter with her" becomes a NP and is the DO of "wonder". That is, [what's the matter with her] is taken as [that which is the matter with her]

But if you move the "is", as in your first example,

  • I want to know what the matter is with her.

this breaks the pattern of the idiom, and risks being taken literally.

As for the third example:

  • I want to know what's her problem

As WS2 hinted, "problem" is another matter altogether. To illustrate:

What's her problem?" is NOT equivalent to What's the problem with her? The first asks what she feels the problem is; the second asks why others think that she is causing a problem. And neither of these is equvalent to "What's the matter with her?

Thus, the third example is not a reasonable alternative to the first two (so let's stick to the matter at hand, and avoid problems.)

In conclusion, I'd say (notwithstanding what Oxford has to say about it) that the second example

  • I wonder what's the matter with her.

    is the clear choice (at least in speech and reported speech). It is the most accurate, unambiguous way to say it.


We may be getting confused here. Do I take it that everyone accepts John Lawler's dictum on what the matter is versus what's the matter? If so, let's forget that and concentrate on matter v problem, which incidentally are not synonyms.

Forget problem for a moment, think of matter. We use matter to ask of someone else, but we rarely use it for ourselves. We don't say:

The matter with me is that my leg hurts. We use a variety of other expressions, only one of which is problem.

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    This sentence if reworded into a secondary person would be The matter with her is that her leg hurts. This still doesn't work and would have to be reworded as "Her problem is her hurt leg." I like the idea of deliniating problem and matter based on this self directed versus outward usage, but what about this sentence, "There's nothing the matter with me." This is correct, is it not? – Revlis Lain Nov 4 '15 at 9:38
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    @RevlisLain I agree with the things you say, but we are getting terribly bogged down with problem as though it were some sort of direct alternative, a synonym of matter. It is only one of a score of words one could use. Why not The trouble is that her leg hurts. But I agree there are various ways one can apply matter to oneself.e.g. There's something the matter with my big toe. – WS2 Nov 4 '15 at 10:13
  • I agree with you that words should not be sought as direct replacements. I agree with Rathony that a further discussion would be very interesting. I hope to see that. – Revlis Lain Nov 4 '15 at 10:59
  • I have never said I disagreed with 'John Lawler's dictum'. My question was rhetorical. The next sentence advances my argument by beginning If so. This is a perfectly usual articulate device. – WS2 Nov 4 '15 at 11:45
  • I can't find any dictum by JL here? Where can I find it? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 6 '15 at 13:16

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