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I just wrote to somebody almost these exact words:

"I cannot remember when was the last time I felt like this before"

and then it hit me I made a boo-boo as the sentence is affirmative, so I should have gone with

"I cannot remember when the last time I felt like this before was"

Or not? The 2nd sentence sounds awkward, and I vaguely remember somebody explaining that in such cases inversion might be retained...

  • Your second example is correct. It's an interrogative content clause (embedded question) and there should be no inversion. It is awkward, but not because there's anything wrong with the grammar. Consider this: I cannot remember when I last felt like this. – BillJ Jun 11 '17 at 19:01
  • I see. A follow-up question. Is it just that sentence or it's not at all possible to retain inversion in affirmative sentences with embedded questions? I think I have found something similar in edited writing recently. – user175130 Jun 11 '17 at 19:34
  • You can just say "I cannot remember when I last felt like this." You don't need to use "the time" (it's implied by "when") or "before" (it's implied by "last") – herisson Jun 12 '17 at 0:15
  • No, it's not just that sentence. Embedded questions do not (normally) have inversion at all. – BillJ Jun 12 '17 at 6:47
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The embedded question in

"I cannot remember when was the last time I felt like this before"

if realized as an independent declarative clause, might be, for instance,

"The last time I felt like this before was June."  

or, better,

"June was the last time I felt like this before."

The latter is better because English dislikes having long complicated constituents followed by simple short ones -- there are several extraposition-like mechanisms to avoid them. The reason the subject sounds better at the end of the embedded question in your example is this tendency of complex constituents to come toward the end of constructions.

The general rule that you get subject-verb inversion only in independent questions, not in embedded questions, is not violated here, because the movement of the original subject to the end in your example has nothing to do with the clause being a question. It happens also in non-questions, as I've just noted.

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In my opinion, both sentences sound a bit awkward. Why not simply: I can't remember the last time I felt like this.

The second sentence is grammatically correct. Using a simpler sentence, it's much clearer. Take out "the last time I felt like this before" and you've got "I cannot remember when [...] was"

"I cannot remember when [lunch] was." is obviously correct.

"I cannot remember when [my last meal] was." is therefore correct.

"I cannot remember when [the last time I played baseball] was." is correct, albeit somewhat awkward.

Now we can see that:

"I cannot remember when [the last time I felt like this] was." is also correct.

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  • I agree. I just went and edited what I'd written, so now it's "I can't remember the last time I felt like this", and I think I'm on the safe side :) – user175130 Jun 11 '17 at 19:59

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