2

If we look at these direction questions changed into indirect (or more polite) questions:

  1. Where is the bathroom?

    Do you know where the bathroom is?

  2. How tall are you?

    Could you tell me how tall you are?

Could someone explain to me why the sentences below are somewhat different in terms of structure? The top two sentences end in Be, but the bottom two sentences end with adjectives. Is it because both 'mine' and 'late' are adjectives?

  1. Which book is mine?

    Can you tell me which book is mine?

  2. Why are you late?

    Could you tell me why you are late?

3
  • 1
    Externally, the structure is the same in that they all contain a subordinate interrogative clause functioning as complement of the matrix verb. Internally, the interrogative phrase in [1] and [2] is predicative complement of "be", while in [3] it is subject and in [4] it is a reason adjunct. Note that "mine" is a personal pronoun, not an adjective.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 2 at 16:21
  • You are trying to compare direct and indirect questions. The obvious answer cannot be the one you are looking for: that of each pair of questions the first is a direct question, while the second is a direct question containing an indirect question. How should it be described? Omitting the obvious answer, I would say that the second of each numbered question is asked by a British person. They are roundabout ways of seeking the same information. The first of each pair sounds blunt to the British (or at least English) ear by comparison with the second, particularly in the case of 4.
    – Tuffy
    Commented May 2 at 21:14
  • Actually, my question, and I apologize for the confusion, is why isn't #3: Can you tell me which book mine is (or my book is)? or #4 Could you tell me why you late are?
    – Lab coat
    Commented May 3 at 7:55

2 Answers 2

1

It's important to look at the declarative form to see what is going on.

SUBJECT and VERB inversion with BE

  • Where is the bathroom? is a question with where, which takes a subject-verb inversion with be. The bathroom is over there.

SUBJECT and VERB inversion with KNOW. A Do [subject] [verb] question.

  • Do you know where the bathroom is? The question part of the sentence is "Do you know". Therefore, the where clause does not take an inversion.

  • How tall are you? Inversion of subject and verb, like the first sentence above. Same thing.

  • Could you tell me how tall you are? The question portion of the sentence is "could you tell me". Therefore, the where clause does not take an inversion.

DECLARATIVES and QUESTIONS with BE

  • This book is mine. Question: Which book is mine?
    A question with be inverts the subject with the determiner which and verb.

Which book is mine? which is used as an adjective determiner. A declarative here can be: This book is mine. So the question form inverts the subject and verb.

  • Can you tell me which book is mine? Questions with modals like can invert the subject and verb like this: Can you. The question comes from that inversion, not from the existing clause: which book is mine. [declarative: Which book is mine will be decided by the readers.]

  • Why are you late? Declarative: You are late. A question with be inverts subject and verb.

  • Could you tell me why you are late? The question is carried by the inversion of could you, not by the rest of the sentence.

Conclusion: In sentences with be, the subject and verb invert to form a question. In ones with other stative or dynamic verbs, an auxiliary or modal is used followed by the subject and verb (do you know x). The remaing part of the sentence is generally not affected by the question form.

The book which I gave you was very large.
Q: Was the book which I gave you very large?
which I gave you is not affected.

Q: Where is little Johnny? [simple question with subject-verb inversion] I want to know where little Johnny is. [statement] Q: Can you tell me where little Johnny is?
where little Johnny is is not affected.

One will often here native speakers forget to put the be verb in the right place. You get TV people saying things like: "The authorities were not able to determine who were the assailants". instead of: "The authorities were not able to determine who the assailants were". They put the question form into the statement.

0

Could someone explain to me why these sentences below are somewhat different in terms of structure?

They are not.

Where is the bathroom? -> adverb - verb - subject -> inversion as it is a question

Do you know {where the bathroom is}? Aux verb - subject - infinitive - {Complement} -> inversion occurs because "do you know" is (a) question.

Compare "Do you know John/English/the way home.

9
  • 1
    I think it's better to say that the interrogative clause is not object but complement of "know". It's not an NP.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 2 at 15:23
  • 2
    I think the point of the question is why #3 isn't "Can you tell me which my book is?"
    – Barmar
    Commented May 2 at 15:44
  • Yes, @Barmar, that is my question.
    – Lab coat
    Commented May 3 at 7:52
  • @BillJ I'm happy to change that - I was arguing with myself as to whether it was worth being more precise.
    – Greybeard
    Commented May 3 at 11:50
  • @Barmar: Given context, there is nothing wrong with "Can you tell me which my book is?"
    – Greybeard
    Commented May 3 at 11:55

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.