As written in the title, my question is, which version of the sentence is grammatically correct, if not both. I've been arguing with some guy on 9gag for roughly 10-15 minutes already, and I'm not sure myself anymore by now. Again, which of the following is correct?

  • Can you tell me what this is?
  • Can you tell me what is this?

In my opinion, the first version is correct, and the second version lacks a colon, like this:

  • Can you tell me: What is this?

I would be delighted to hear your opinions.

PS: Please note that I did some research online, also with the help of "online grammar checks", but a) couldn't find anything or b) both sentences were identified as correct.


1 Answer 1


English frequently tries to go back to its Germanic roots when it comes to word order in subordinate clauses. In German the verb can usually gets shoved all the way to the end of the clause, and in your first sentence this is what is happening. The "that" signals to me that that which follows involves a subordinate clause.

I don't know if the second sentence is grammatically correct or not, but I would never say it that way, myself. Your version with the colon would be better, if you wanted to say it that way.

Someone with great linguistic knowledge will probably provide a detailed answer to this, and I look forward to it, but for my money, the first sentence is good, and the second is not.

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