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In this clip, you can hear the following question:

Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the US on a world map. Why do you think this is?

It’s not clear to me if the clause “This is” leaves out something, e.g. “This is like that”, “This is true” and so on, or if, on the contrary, the verb “to be” is used here with a full stative meaning, as if it meant “This exists“.

Moreover, is this usage of the verb “to be” linked to questions such as that I gave as an example, or can it also be used in affirmative sentences?

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    I'm having difficulty with your final paragraph. – Euan M Dec 3 '15 at 22:15
  • @EuanM I’ll try to explain myself better. I would like to know if you can use “This is” as it appears in my example in an affirmative sentence such as the following: “This is because the American people have no maps”. Is this latter usage correct? – Ferdinand Bardamu Dec 3 '15 at 22:56
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    You certainly can use this is in an affirmative statement. Bear in mind that is often precisely equivalent to this in contexts where you're referencing something that was/is in the immediate vicinity. Such as the last statement made by someone else, with which you might reasonably express complete agreement by saying That is true. – FumbleFingers Dec 4 '15 at 0:43
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It's the ordinary 'linking verb' or copula, and the copula is stative—it's practically the paradigmatic stative.

As for the construction, work back from the desired answer. Why is an interrogative pro-form standing for an adverbial of purpose, so it can act as a predicate complement:

I think this is because X
replace the adverbial with its interrogative pro-form
I think this is why.
move the interrogative pro-form to the front and invert the verb and subject with do-support Why do you think this is _? . . . the _ marks the 'gap' or 'trace'

  • I think that your explanation hits the nail on the head. So, this kind of questions sort of echoes a possible answer by using exactly the same construction. – Ferdinand Bardamu Dec 8 '15 at 7:40
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I believe the verb to be has a 'stative' quality.

One could have said Why do you think this is so? But in the absence of so I find it unnecessary to re-instate it in brackets for the purpose of parsing the sentence.

Indeed I see no reason why it cannot similarly be used in the affirmative, for example:

My neighbours have gone to Spain, and I know exactly why that is.

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It is essentially short for

"Why do you think [that] this [fact] is [true]?"

or

"Why do you think [that] this [fact that I have just stated] is [true]?"

So the final "this is" is being used in a stative sense - it is describing a state of being, and not an action. But it's also a linking verb, linking "this" to its truthiness.

  • Why do you think this is Stack Overflow? – bib Dec 3 '15 at 22:40
  • @bib Why are you unaware of the traditional use in English of [ and ] ? – Euan M Dec 3 '15 at 23:18
  • @bib Unless you are referring to truthiness, in which case, why are you unaware of Steven Colbert and the emergence of truthiness from popular culture, and its adoption into usage from there? – Euan M Dec 3 '15 at 23:20
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    This is an artifact of the markup language. I was trying to say Why do you think this is (so)? using standard brackets, but the markup changed it to the Stack Overflow link. I was offering what WS2 discussed shortly thereafter - the pronoun so as the predicate nominative of is. – bib Dec 3 '15 at 23:30
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    lol! Well, that certainly changes the meaning of your comment! – Euan M Dec 3 '15 at 23:31
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Notwithstanding that toe-curling youtube clip, it's reasonably rare for "why do you think this is?", "why is this?" or "why is it so?" to literally be a question to another person. In a lot of English speech it is used rhetorically, and the questioner (a reporter, a panellist, or a college lecturer, say) will go on to answer it themselves.

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