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Which is right...?

1- He asked me who the best player in the team was.

2- He asked me who was the best player in the team.

3- He asked what the matter was.

4- He asked what was the matter.

5- He asked whose book was it.

6- He asked whose book was it.

It is known that the general rule in indirect question is the inversion of verb and subject, but I noticed the above sentences are all acceptable in some grammar books, would you please add more explanation about this subject. Thanks in advance.

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Hi, Ahmed,

@Ahmed towab posted:

Which is right...?

1- He asked me who the best player in the team was.

2- He asked me who was the best player in the team.

3- He asked what the matter was.

4- He asked what was the matter.

5- He asked whose book was it.

6- He asked whose book was it.

It is known that the general rule in indirect question is the inversion of verb and subject, but I noticed the above sentences are all acceptable in some grammar books, would you please add more explanation about this subject. Thanks in advance.

Questions (1-4):

I see that depends on whether you are asking about the subject or the subject complement. Since there is no context, both answers are grammatically correct. Michael Swan, page 253, sees that both options are acceptable. He says, "When we report  (where who/what/which + be asks for a subject), two word orders are possible.''

-DIRECT: Who's the best player here? INDIRECT: She asked me who was the best player.

- She asked me who the best player was.

-DIRECT: What's the matter?

INDIRECT: I asked what was the matter.

I asked what the matter was.

-DIRECT: Which is my seat?

INDIRECT: She wondered which was her seat.

She wondered which her seat was.

This does not happen when who/what/which asks for a complement.

DIRECT: What's the time?

INDIRECT: She asked what the time was. (NOT USUALLY She asked what was the time.)

Your examples (5) and (6) are typically the same. Here, I would use 'that was', with no inversion.

For relating threads, see these two interesting discussions between David and Gustavo:

https://thegrammarexchange.inf...c/what-is-the-matter

https://thegrammarexchange.inf...c/reported-speech-14

BTW, and just for the record, if you have to choose between 3 and 4, you will find out that most sites go with sentence 4 (not 3). (See the first link above).

Last edited by ahmed_btm
@Ahmed towab posted:


3- He asked what the matter was.
4- He asked what was the matter.



@ahmed_btm posted:


BTW, and just for the record, if you have to choose between 3 and 4, you will find out that most sites go with sentence 4 (not 3).

Hello, Ahmed and Ahmed—You've provided some very good responses here, Ahmed_btm. Thank you. I'd like to clarify why I am a strong proponent of using sentences like (4) rather than sentences like (3) with "the matter."

While that recommendation might seem to be an exception to the rule that we don't use subject–auxiliary inversion in embedded questions, in reality it is not. "The matter," in this idiomatic usage, is an NP that never functions as subject.

"What's the matter?" may be paraphrased "What's wrong?" Paraphrases that do not use an adjective are also possible—e.g., "What's troubling you?" In each case, "the matter" is not the subject. Also, consider the following contrasts:

(i) Is something the matter?
(ii) *Is the matter something?

(iii) Nothing is the matter.
(iv) *? The matter is nothing.

While (iv) would be grammatical as a statement that some particular matter, understood in the context, is insignificant, it is ungrammatical as a statement that nothing is wrong or that nothing is troubling the speaker.

Because, therefore, "the matter" in this idiomatic usage never functions as subject, it cannot be said that the sentence order in (4) constitutes a use of inversion in an embedded question. It is not an exception. Compare:

(3a) He asked what was wrong.
(3b) He asked what was troubling me/us/you/him/her/them.

Last edited by David, Moderator

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