In reported questions, there is a simple rule of changing the order of the sentence into a non question order. like "what's the dinner" changes to "she asked me what the dinner was". However, sometimes you come across sentences like "what's in the box? what's FOR dinner? who else is there?", etc, in which case the reported question would be "she asked me what was in the box", "she asked me what was for dinner", etc. Now I know how meaningless it is to say "she asked me what in the box was", but when teaching students, they can't differentiate between them just by the meaning. I wanted to know what rule there is to explain this.

thanks in advance

closed as off-topic by Jason Bassford, TrevorD, Chappo, JJJ, Rand al'Thor Apr 27 at 11:50

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    I think the simple 'rule' here is that the order in indirect questions is the same as the normal order of a corresponding declarative statement. For example: Fish is for dinner (SVA) >> She asked me [what was for dinner] (SVA). – Shoe Apr 20 at 16:29
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    You refer to "when teaching students", so perhaps you should be asking this question on our sister site {English Language Learners](ell.stackexchange.com). – TrevorD Apr 21 at 22:40


  • What's the dinner? (not a very idiomatic question)

"the dinner" is the subject and "what" is the subject complement. Proof of this is that the answer will be something like:

  • The dinner is fish. ("fish" is the answer to "what")


  • What's for dinner?

"what" is the subject. This becomes evident in the answer:

  • Fish is for dinner.

In the embedded or reported question, the "wh"-word (what, who, which) will be followed by the verb if it is the subject of the question, and will be followed by the subject if it is the subject complement.

  • He asked me what was for dinner. (Compare with the statement: Fish was for dinner -> "what" is the subject of the question, just as "fish" is the subject in the statement.)

  • He asked me what the dinner was. (Compare with the statement: The dinner was fish -> "what" is the subject complement of the question, just as "fish" is the subject complement in the statement.)

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