I have been taught that when a wh-word is a subject of the question there is no need to use auxiliary before the main verb unlike the practice of subject-auxiliary inversion generally followed in making interrogatives.

So my question is how would you differentiate and tell whether it is a clause or a question. For instance, We were asked:

"Which one of us wanted coffee"?

And if I were to narrate it to someone else, I would say-

My friend asked which one of us wanted coffee.

Now the same set of words is working both as question in former and subordinate clause in the latter sentence. Since there is no alteration because of no subject auxiliary inversion how would I know whether it is a question or a clause?

  • A question is also a clause (or several clauses). I think you’re trying to create a distinction that doesn’t exist. You can tell whether it’s a subordinate by looking at whether it’s embedded as a unit in a containing clause, exactly the same way as you’d tell whether any other clause is a subordinate clause. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 7 '19 at 14:24
  • I think you mean: a declarative sentence versus an interrogative sentence. – Lambie Oct 4 '19 at 16:26

In written form, you would see the question mark. In spoken form you would listen to the tone of a question.

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"Which one of us wanted coffee?"

That is always a question because the only other possibility is that it have a predicate associated with and would therefore have to have something coming before it or after it. We can agree there is nothing before it (pre-positioned).

And after it (or post-positioned}, you might get:

"Which one of us wanted coffee was not easy to determine".

That follows the SVP pattern: Subject, verb, predicate.

was not easy to determine is the verb plus a predicate.

[statement: the which clause is the subject and it is not a question]

So, in sum, for it not to be a question, it would need a verb and predicate.

"My friend asked which one of us wanted coffee." the clause introduced by the phrase which one of us is post-positioned.

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