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Hello, Grammar Exchange members!

While reading, I ran into the following sentences: 

We only have so much life force, so much chi, pran, or energy. Why spend it performing tasks that don't match your prewired tendencies?

I've been wondering what part of speech the word "Why" is.  I know "why" is usually an adverb in an interrogative sentence. But in the sentence above I'm not sure. I understand "it" refers to "life force, chi, pran, or energy" I guess maybe "do you" is omitted between "Why" and "spend".

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

Thanks in advance.

 

Original Post

Hi, KDog,

The interrogative adverb "why" is often used with verbs in the bare infinitive to make the question sound impersonal, or because the subject is implied.

@KDog posted:

We only have so much life force, so much chi, pran, or energy. Why spend it performing tasks that don't match your prewired tendencies?

I've been wondering what part of speech the word "Why" is.  I know "why" is usually an adverb in an interrogative sentence. But in the sentence above I'm not sure. I understand "it" refers to "life force, chi, pran, or energy" I guess maybe "do you" is omitted between "Why" and "spend".

Yes, Why spend it performing tasks ...? is a (generally spoken) variant of Why do we / should we spend it perfoming tasks ...? as if questioning how that energy is used.

We also have the possibility of using "Why not" with a bare infinitive. These examples are taken from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:

Why not give up an Aki Berg if you can get a Nieuwendyk?
Why not let the people know?
Why not make a special bookmark for Thinking Day?

I've been thinking that "why" seems to be the only interrogative word that is followed by a bare infinitive -- all others are followed by a full infinitive in similar abbreviated contexts:

Where to go in this case?
What to do in this case?
Who to ask in this case?
When to go in this case?
How to tell him in this case?
Which to choose in this case?

Quite by chance I found this page where there are some good examples of why and why not followed by a bare infinitive, and of reported or embedded questions with other wh-words followed by a full infinitive:

  • Why wait until tomorrow?
  • Why not ask him now?
  • Why leave before the end of the game?
  • Why walk when we can go in the car?
  • Why not buy a new bed?

  • She asked me how to use the washing machine.
  • Do you understand what to do?
  • Tell me when to press the button.
  • I've forgotten where to put this little screw.
  • I'm not sure I know who to call.
Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor

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