I have serious questions whether this "died suddenly" thing has some kind of major psyop angle to it now.

What is the function of the whether clause here? Is it possible to state that whether in this sentence are used as relative clause defining "questions"? Is it possible to put about before the whether so that whether clause can be seen as object of the preposition?


1 Answer 1


The whether-clause is a closed interrogative content clause (finite subordinate yes/no question). Its main clause equivalent would be:

Does this "died suddenly" thing have some kind of major psyop angle to it now?

These can be direct complements of the noun question immediately following the head noun, or an oblique complement contained inside a prepositional phrase headed by as to, about, over.

By the 1990s, the change in the composition of the Supreme Court raised questions as to whether Roe v. Wade would be overruled. (Texas Law Review)

It has raised questions over whether even a more limited security relationship between the two countries is even possible. (NYT)

The disclosures have also raised questions about whether the F.B.I. funneled confidential information to Mr. Scarpa. (NYT)

Whereas relative clauses are allowed by all nouns and are hence modifiers, only certain nouns like reservations, discussion, argument license ICCs as dependents, hence they are analyzed as complements.

Further, they are not relative clauses as they do not relativize any element of the subordinate clause, i.e. no element in the subordinate clause is understood through the head noun 'questions'.

In a relative clause there would always be something understood through the head noun. For example:

He was the man [I met].

The subordinate clause is understood something like:

I met this man. (this man I'm talking about)

  • 1
    Yeah, whether is just the wh-word for yes/no questions. I don't know what he ate vs I don't know whether he ate. One embeds the question What did he eat? and the other embeds the question Did he eat?. Whether is required as complementizer. That's why it's often exchanged with if -- only two choices, yes or no. As you say, this isn't a relative clause, it's a nominal complement, restricted to "picture nouns" to show the content. Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 2:08
  • Who says this: “These can be direct complements of the noun question”? I find have questions whether — without a preposition — to be unnatural. Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 14:39
  • Serious questions sounds better with a wh-complement. It depends on whether the speaker takes questions as a picture noun or not. It's somewhat marginal. Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 17:17
  • @TinfoilHat The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language p980 for one - they call them 'core complements'. It's quite a common occurrence if one looks around a bit, though specific instances may vary in acceptability according to the individual's ear.
    – DW256
    Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 1:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.