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The word order in this interrogative sentence does not convince me.

'Le marteau sans maître' is a famous composition of which composer?

  • How can it be put in a clearer way?

  • What is the best place for a preposition in an interrogative sentence?

  • Can sentences begin or end with prepositions?

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  • 7
    This is a perfectly standard form for a quiz question. Jan 14 '17 at 13:52
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    Ms. Bunting is correct. The question could be rewritten as "Which composer wrote the famous composition, 'Le marteau sans maître'?" (Answer: Pierre Boulez.) However, there is nothing wrong with the way it is written in your example. Sentences can begin (e.g., "In the beginning....") or end with a preposition, although some older English grammar books discourage ending sentences with a preposition, and many people continue to prefer to avoid it in formal writing outside of a quoted narrative. However, it is both common and idiomatic, especially in spoken English. Jan 14 '17 at 14:56
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I agree with Kate Bunting's comment. It's a standard form for a quiz question. It is something you might hear/read in a quiz show.

Take a look at the image I just attached. I found it in only a couple of minutes, which only goes to show how common this structure is in quizzes.

As for questions beginning or ending with a preposition, there's a debate around whether it is appropriate to end a question with a preposition, but modern usage clearly shows it is more than okay. Take a look at these two examples:

  • Who did you go with?
  • With whom did you go?

enter image description here

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  • How could the question in the image above be rephrased more formally? I cannot help but feel that the sentence is poorly composed. :D
    – Veo
    Jan 15 '17 at 8:57
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    "People plug their sensitive electronics (such as televisions, stereo equipment and computers) into 'surge protectors' to protect their electronics from unexpected surges of what?" "A. Electric current." It is a difficult question to rephrase without becoming awkward or verbose. I feel that I have failed to do both. :-( Jan 15 '17 at 20:29
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    @Veo, I believe it could go something like this: "Of what are the unexpected surges from which homeowners protect their possessions by buying surge protectors?" However, starting the question with "of" sounds awful, at least to me. 😂 Jan 16 '17 at 11:47
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The question is correctly constructed. I have seen questions of this structure called "wh-in-situ" by linguists because the wh-word remains "in place" (it's where it would be in the corresponding declarative sentence) rather than being fronted.

In some languages, this is the only grammatical way to form questions. In English, fronting the wh-word is the "neutral" option, but wh-in-situ is also grammatical, although "marked" (it usually only occurs in special circumstances).

The World Atlas of Language Structures article on "Position of Interrogative Phrases in Content Questions", by Matthew S. Dryer, mentions two circumstances where non-fronted interrogatives are commonly used in English:

It is possible in English to place an interrogative phrase later in the sentence, but this word order is not normally used in neutral questions. It is used either in echo-questions, where the speaker is expressing surprise or incredulity at something that they have just heard, as in (2a), or by a teacher asking students questions, as in (2b).

(2)
a. You are leaving when?!?
b. Napoleon died in what year?

The sentence you asked about,

'Le marteau sans maître' is a famous composition of which composer?

is the same type of sentence as (b), so there is no problem with its word order.


Your other questions are really distinct issues. It is grammatical for a sentence to begin or end with a preposition.

  1. Which composer is 'Le marteau sans maître' a famous composition of?

  2. Of which composer is 'Le marteau sans maître' a famous composition?

These are both grammatical. However, they both sound bad to me. (The second sounds worse than the first.)

If you wanted to use a wh-word at the start of this question, I would re-phrase to something like this:

Who composed the famous composition 'Le marteau sans maître'?

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  • The second example sounds bad to me as well, but I think I would use it in formal writing instead of my initial one.
    – Veo
    Jan 15 '17 at 9:00

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