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I find the word order of this sentence interesting:

You will all know the outlines of this disaster, but I suggest that many people, including me before I went down this road, had really little conception of how useless the UN had been, and how supine was the Security Council, including, I'm afraid, the United Kingdom. (source: YouTube)

It seems to be part of a scripted speech so it doesn't seem to lack premeditation and preparation. Embedded clauses should normally use declarative word order, not question grammar. The speaker interestingly uses statement grammar for the first clause but switches to question word order with the second clause. My question is: Why is that? Is he trying to shift the balance of the clause and make it "right heavy" because it is followed by an adjunct "including, I'm afraid, the United Kingdom"? Or is it because such inversion is allowed in follow-up clauses (everything that comes after the first clause)? Or is it a rhetorical device for emphasis?

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    It should have been how supine the Security Council was. Mar 12, 2023 at 2:18
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    You should forgive people for making structural changes in the middle of a sentence when speaking off-the-cuff. Mar 12, 2023 at 2:19
  • It feels like an acceptable turn of phrase for an earlier generation, particularly if you change “was” to the archaic “wast”.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 12, 2023 at 3:18
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    These "how" clauses are exclamative clauses and not interrogative ones. Exclamatives allow for subject auxiliary inversion although it is somewhat literary in flavour and relatively rare, especially in subordinate clauses. Mar 12, 2023 at 16:40
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    Related.
    – tchrist
    Jun 9, 2023 at 0:34

2 Answers 2

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It’s fine.

He needs to keep Security Council and including the United Kingdom together:

. . . how supine was [the Security Council, including the United Kingdom.]

He could do this:

. . . how supine [the Security Council, including the United Kingdom,] was.

But in speech, we generally can’t be expected to hold our attention that long to get to the verb.

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  • You don't need to put predicative adjuncts next to the noun they modify. "How supine the Security Council was, including the United Kingdom" sounds perfectly fine.
    – alphabet
    Mar 12, 2023 at 19:42
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The speaker interestingly uses statement grammar for the first clause but switches to question word order with the second clause. My question is: Why is that?

Because he misspoke. Either he didn't follow his script or the script itself had a grammatical mistake. It seems most likely that, in attempting to make the sentence more right-heavy and put the noun next to the adjunct, he accidentally made it ungrammatical.

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