Long-distance movement and Inversion in embedded questions with wh-words in situ


As I know, we can say:

  1. He asks whether she bought what?
  2. He asks what did she buy?

But we cannot extract "what" from the embedded question introduced by "whether":

  1. What does he ask whether she bought?

Thus I wonder if we can do so from the question with inversion:

  1. What does he ask did she buy?

Aharon M. Vertmont

Posted 2017-09-23T12:21:23.883

Reputation: 169

It seems like you need some orientation and direction on how to form indirect questions. Given that all four of those example sentences are poorly written and several of them are even ungrammatical, I'm going to pass your question over to our sister site for [ell.se] on your behalf so that you can get better attention tailored to a learner’s needs.

– tchrist – 2017-09-23T14:44:08.717

1Despite the comment from @tchrist, the question is not about indirect questions. See McCawley's discussion of questions with multiple question words in The Syntactic Phenomena of English. I find the grammaticality of example 4. unclear. – Greg Lee – 2017-09-23T16:14:43.313

@GregLee, could you tell me where one can get that book? I have googled but without success. If anything, could you explain? – Aharon M. Vertmont – 2017-09-23T16:34:50.767

@tchrist, they say in some dialects is observed usage of such constructions as ''He asked who did we see'' alongside with ''He asked who [null that] we saw''. Hence T-C head-movement can occur instead of null-that complementizer in embedded wh-questions. In statements we can also see: ''He claimed that we saw his wife'' - ''He claimed did we see his wife''. We observe yes-no questions in such a construction: ''He asked whether/if we saw his wife'' - ''He asked did we see his wife''. In that-statements one can extract wh-object but cannot do so in inversion-statements. So what about questions? – Aharon M. Vertmont – 2017-09-23T17:02:25.813

1Well, for starters we can't say "He asks whether she bought what?" That's not grammatical. So it's difficult to determine what exactly you are trying to say. "He asked whether she bought anything," "He asked what she bought." etc – Andrew – 2017-09-23T17:16:15.680

Also the term "long-distance movement" makes no sense in this context. Could you please explain what you think it means? – Andrew – 2017-09-23T17:17:24.757

@Andrew, maybe that lady was rumored to have bought something so the man was intended to make sure if she had bought it and in the case she had bought something - what it might be. – Aharon M. Vertmont – 2017-09-23T17:22:41.077

1@AharonM.Vertmont It would be phrased as two separate questions, "he asked if she bought anything, and if so, what (she bought)." – Andrew – 2017-09-23T17:26:02.177

@Andrew by that I meant the movement from the embedded clause to the very beginning of the main one. I am not concerned with how many steps it had. – Aharon M. Vertmont – 2017-09-23T17:28:06.847

@Andrew: *He asked whether she bought what?* is perfectly okay as an incredulous response to having just been told, say, He asked whether she bought a dildo (as in *I can't believe he would ask that!*). Admittedly it might take a bit of contrivance to make it a natural utterance with present tense *asks* - but one has to use a bit of imagination sometimes when testing the limits of grammar. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-09-23T18:33:46.623

Well, I didn't mean it as an echo-question. Now I have composed several sentences again (with 'claim' and 'ask' for convinience) and something weird arises. Ok, one cannot use ''whether'' in this case, but ''that''. For example, ''He asks what (that) she bought?'' or ''What does he ask (that) she bought?". So why does ''that'' appear in questions? I intuit that what we are dealing with here is Scope. I must read some more about it. – Aharon M. Vertmont – 2017-09-23T18:54:02.630

@FumbleFingers that still doesn't really make sense to me. In that expression it sounds like he's asking if she bought a "what", whatever that might be. But judging from the response it sounds like the topic is a very esoteric and rarely-used grammar that would not sound at all natural to the average native speaker ... so my guess is that this was improperly migrated from ELU. – Andrew – 2017-09-24T02:19:56.627



I don't want to get into a discussion of "head-movement". There are contributors to this forum who could discuss this with you intelligently, but such discussions belong, IMO, on linguistics.stackexchange.com

whether heads a choice between two declarations, one of which can be implicit, the negation of the first.

I want to know
     {you eat shellfish} 
     {not}. [i.e. you do not eat shellfish]

An unanswered interrogative is not a declaration:

He asks whether she bought what? ungrammatical

He asks whether what did she buy? ungrammatical

He asks whether did she buy it? ungrammatical

He wants to know
      what she bought  was expensive 
      (not) [what she bought was not expensive]

P.S. Your example:

What does he ask did she buy?

We can ask questions about a question. We can ask the questioner directly or, as in your example, we can ask someone who has heard the question. Your question can also be understood as a question directed to someone who has paraphrased an original question. An idiomatic way to ask a question about a question, or about a paraphrased question, is to restate the question as a declaration with questioning intonation on the part you did not hear or on the part you need repeated, as signified below by italics and a superscript question mark:

Who ate the last cookie? original question

He wants to know who ate the last cookie. paraphrase

He wants to know who ate what ? He wants to know who did what ? to the last cookie?

What time does the train arrive? original question

He asked what time the train arrives. paraphrase

He wanted to know what time what ? arrives?
He wanted to know what time the train does what ?

When was he born?

He wants to know when you were born.

He wants to know when I was what ? He wants to know when who? was born?


Posted 2017-09-23T12:21:23.883

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