I was reading the book The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and there is a sentence from it I found quite strange:

"I wonder could we untie him as well?" said Susan presently. But the enemies, ....

Why is there a subject-auxiliary inversion in the embedded clause?

Is it something to do with garden path?

  • 6
    I would think it's more an attempt to mimic spoken English; in written language you'd probably write it as I wonder, could we untie him as well?. Garden path sentences lead you to an alternative interpretation of a sentence which is invalidated later on, which isn't the case here. Jan 22 at 17:38
  • @OliverMason Thanks for your explanation. I understand that there is a difference between oral language and written one.
    – Xia.Yili
    Jan 24 at 14:15
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    @jlawler I see. Thanks for providing the source. I think it has solved my question.
    – Xia.Yili
    Jan 24 at 14:15
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    I'd probably insert a comma or colon after "wonder". Another way of expressing the same idea would be "Could we, I wonder, untie him as well?" Jan 28 at 17:06
  • Thanks Oliver Mason. I understand that it is in spoken English.
    – Xia.Yili
    Jan 30 at 1:20

2 Answers 2


I seriously doubt C. S. Lewis would make a typo. This is indeed spoken language, but it is also standard in some dialects. Yale University has an article on Inversion in embedded questions, commenting on examples such as

And he told them who was it. (Fought 2003:98)

The article says

In the syntactic literature, this construction is discussed in some detail by McCloskey (1992) for Hiberno English and Henry (1995) for Belfast English. It has been reported in a number of North American English varieties as well, including African American English (Green 2002:87-89), Appalachian English (Wolfram and Christian 1976:129), Chicano English (Fought 2003:98), Northeast U.S. English (Ross 1975) and Newfoundland English (Clarke 2004:315). This construction has become rather widespread, according to the following passage from Wolfram and Schilling (2016:388):

[...] the use of inverted word order in indirect questions, as in

  • She asked could she go to the movies,

is becoming just as much a part of informal spoken American English as indirect questions without inverted word order, as in

  • She asked if she could go to the movies.

Quoting, Shane Walshe, Irish English as Represented in Film, 2009,Thought.co also signals dialectal usage:

Some dialects of English (including Irish English and Welsh English) retain the inversion of direct questions, resulting in sentences such as

I asked him was he going home.

Now, C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast, so it's not surprising he uses this structure.

  • Wow thanks @fev
    – Xia.Yili
    Feb 2 at 12:35
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    The literature you have recommended on the text is awesome! I didn't know there is a well formed phenomenon and the dialectical difference is very surprising to me. Thanks very much!
    – Xia.Yili
    Feb 2 at 12:38

The words "I wonder" cannot be part of the question, precisely because only the clause starting with "could..." has undergone subject-auxiliary inversion.

This is likely either a typo or a nonstandard informal usage. Typically you would see either:

I wonder: could we untie him as well?


I wonder if we could untie him as well.

  • well put! thanks!
    – Xia.Yili
    Feb 2 at 6:02
  • This 'version' {Todd Anderson; Sermon Central} uses a quotative-like structure]: << I wonder, could we untie him as well? Said Susan presently.>> (Admittedly, other punctuation in the sentence is iffy.) I'd write << "I wonder – could we untie him as well?" said Susan presently. >> Feb 2 at 12:40
  • @EdwinAshworth thanks for the literature.
    – Xia.Yili
    Feb 3 at 2:24

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