Let's say I have the following "wh-question":

Why would a random person like me be able to see ghosts?

I want to turn this sentence into a complete answer statement. I would say:

I have no idea why a random person like me would be able to see ghosts.

To me, this sounds correct and natural. The verb would is moved from before the subject to after it.

My question is, is it grammatically incorrect to say the following?

I have no idea why would a random person like me be able to see ghosts.

As a native speaker from Canada and living in the USA, this sounds both unnatural and ungrammatical to me; however, I can't find any actual linguistic or grammatical references that say one way or the other.

Questions of similar structure I've examined (and come to the same conclusion) include:

  • Why would a bag of chips be this expensive?
    • I don't know why a bag of chips would be this expensive.
  • How would I open this door if I were Satan?
    • I don't know how I would open the door if I were Satan.
  • Where would I find the bathroom?
    • I don't know where I would find the bathroom.

Forming those sentences using the wh-question word order seems incorrect and unnatural as well.

So, my question: Is it grammatical, and natural, to leave word order intact when turning a wh-question into an embedded clause?

NB: I have taken a look at this answered question as well as this unanswered one but neither of them address this particular scenario.


1 Answer 1


Yes, to your question "When 'why would' becomes an embedded clause, should word order be changed?" No to your question "Is it grammatical, and natural, to leave word order intact when turning a wh-question into an embedded clause?"

However, I have noticed native speakers using question word order in embedded clauses, especially in long ones, when they speak, and I've noticed people doing the same in writing. (I assume they are not trained editors.)

Example: If I had known when was the next bus, I wouldn't have taken a taxi.

If I heard this, it wouldn't hurt my ears, but my back-of-the-mind editor/teacher would notice the "wrong" order.

I suspect that using wh-word + subject + verb is going to become less and less common in the future because:

  1. It's not common in other languages. It's a feature of Germanic languages only as far as I know.
  2. As foreign speakers learn English, they simplify it - and sometimes straighten it out - bringing back the "f" in often, for example, and why can't we say "the police is" if we can say "the army is"?
  3. It's not really necessary for understanding. And
  4. English - and all languages - are always changing.

Back to the grammar: This is called a noun clause. You're talking about the kind that begins with a question word. Compare the question and how it turns into a noun clause (in bold) below:

  • What's his name? I don't know what his name is.
  • Where is he? I can't tell you where he is.
  • When does it start? I don't remember when it starts.

This is one of the hardest things for English learners to learn (when they don't speak a Germanic language like Swedish or German).

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