I would like to know if this structure is correct? : Why wearing a school uniform?

If so, what's the difference with: Why wear a school uniform?

I feel like using the ing form, but I found the second form without ing in an article.

  • Can you link the article? Also, was it in its headline? – user140086 Nov 20 '16 at 12:18
  • Only a rescue reading is possible here, which Colin has found. Sentences without finite verbs like that are at best weird. – tchrist Nov 20 '16 at 13:05

Hmm. Interesting question, that has had me thinking hard.

There are three similar but different constructions, and their special meanings aren't obvious.

The straightforward one (which you didn't ask about) is "Why are you/they wearing a school uniform"? That is an ordinary sentence, asking for a reason for something.

"Why wear a school uniform?" is different - it seems to me it has two uses. The common one is a general question, meaning something like "Why do people wear school uniforms?" The other one is a rather aggressive question to an individual about their current or habitual behaviour: "Why wear a school uniform?", implying that there is something strange or bad about doing so.

"Why wearing a school uniform" is not a complete sentence. This doesn't mean nobody would say it - we often use incomplete sentences in speech - but I think it would be used only in rather special circumstances. This is not asking just about the reason for some behaviour, but asking about the phrase "wearing a school uniform", and asking why it is important or relevant. So the context would be something like:

Have you got any pictures of children wearing a school uniform?

Why wearing a school uniform?

I would not expect to meet it in the sense of "Why are you/they wearing a school uniform?"

  • It seems to me your final example could just as well have asked for clarification with Why children wearing a school uniform? That's to say all text after Why in such constructions constitutes a mention rather than a use (it could reasonably be italicised or enclosed in quotes, come to that). I think what this implies is that Why X? is always syntactically invalid when X is a noun phrase (except where X is simply a "mention", in which case any "internal" syntactic aspects of X have no relevance to the syntax of the surrounding construction). – FumbleFingers Nov 20 '16 at 13:57
  • @FumbleFingers: I think you're right in this case (though not in simpler cases - "Why the sad face?" is quite common) but I hesitate to talk about use-mention in this forum. – Colin Fine Nov 20 '16 at 14:13
  • Ah. Seems like the article is key there. It would be perfectly idiomatic to ask Why the school uniform? (meaning Why are you wearing it?), but I still don't think Why school uniform?, Why long face?, etc. with no article can ever really work except in "mention" contexts. – FumbleFingers Nov 20 '16 at 14:21
  • Conversational deletion can occur virtually anywhere. Jerry Morgan once pointed out that Georgia conjectures vanilla is a perfectly grammatical reply to the question What flavor ice cream does Henry Kissinger like? (which gives you an idea how long this phenomenon has been discussed in grammatical circles). – John Lawler Nov 20 '16 at 15:21
  • Is it possible that your second usage example, implying that there is something strange, could be explained as elliptical for "Why [would you/would one] wear a school uniform"? – sebastian_k Nov 20 '16 at 15:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.