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Consider the following sentence:

How many members has this family?

It seems to me like this is ungrammatical, and should be written as

How many members does this family have?

However, how could I motivate this to someone?

  • The original sentence is grammatically correct. – Lawrence Apr 19 '17 at 11:17
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How many members has this family? is an obsolescent usage, if not completely obsolete.

At one time questions licensed the inversion of the subject with any verb at the head of the verb chain, not just auxiliaries. The Modern English practice of inverting only auxiliaries and calling in DO support for simple verbforms became fixed only gradually in the course of the 16th-17th centuries, and two auxiliaries, BE and HAVE, continued to invert even when they acted as lexical verbs. BE, as you know, still inverts in all contexts; and inversion of lexical HAVE lingered well into the 20th century, even in some casual speech. It is still permissible, but has a very old-fashioned ring; I would avoid it, except in consciously archaicizing literary contexts.

  • Maybe it doesn't work quite so well in the exact cited context, but for most contexts involving this construction you can easily make it perfectly natural to the modern ear (mine, anyway) by just adding an extra "helper" verb: How many X's has Y got? – FumbleFingers Apr 19 '17 at 13:08
  • @FumbleFingers That's relatively unusual in AmE, though it wouldn't raise any eyebrows. We mostly don't treat have got as a perfect--among other things, because for most of us the pa.ppl of GET is gotten--so we tend to revert to lexical HAVE in any context beyond present declarative. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 19 '17 at 14:00
  • As I just commented elsewhere, the precise constraints on AmE got/gotten are a bit opaque to me. But when I said got might not work quite so well in OP's exact context, I think that's really because I tend to associate Y has got [number] X's with Y owns / is in possession of that many X's. – FumbleFingers Apr 19 '17 at 14:30
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When you make the question, you need to identify whether the sentence of verb is normal or be verb.

In the sentence you said, have belongs to the verb which takes auxiliary verbs to make a question, and 'have' cannot be moved.

e.g. The dog has a bone > Does the dog have a bone?

However, if the sentence has the verb 'be(is,are,am) , present perfect 'have' and auxiliary verbs(can, should) , you need to change the order of words.

e.g.

You are a student. > Are you a student? You can ride a bike. > Can you ride a bike? You have studied English. > Have you studied English?

In conclusion, the way to make a question could differ accroding to the nature of verbs.

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