Why is it okay to use "are" at the end of a statement?

I found a page here that talks about verbs at the end of indirect questions, but I am specifically looking for an answer about why "are" can be used at the end of a statement that is not an indirect question.

For example:

I won't do that no matter what the circumstances are.

She does not know who they are.

To possibly add a little more clarity to my question, why is it okay to say the sentences above but not okay to say:

She does not know who are they.

I won't do that no matter what are the circumstances.

I feel like there is a really simple grammar rule that I am missing that will make all of this make sense.

Similar Questions / Possible Duplicate:
I found a similar question here that has an answer talking about "is" at the end of a sentence. One of the answers says that you can't use a verb directly after a "wh-" word (i.e. who, what, when...). That would make sense in explaining why we say "who they are" and not "who are they," but that doesn't work when I think about something like: "Where are the cookies?" [Edit: I read the answer again. The difference here has to do with the order of words in a question versus the order in a statement.]

Another similar question is here, but the answer focuses on question formats again. Another answer says:

The normal order is subject-verb-object. When there is no object, the verb comes last in the sentence...

Then they give the example, "I don't know where the bank is." But "bank" is an object. So doesn't that mean we should technically say, "I don't know where is the bank" to follow the subject-verb-object order?

Both of the questions were sort of old so I decided to ask a new one.

Thanks for any help.

  • 1
    "I don't know where the bank is." But "bank" is an object. -- actually, "bank" is the subject of that clause (i.e., "the bank is [somewhere]"). "I don't know [(that) somewhere]" + "the bank is [somewhere]" = "I don't know 'where' the bank is". This is similar to "I don't know [(that) something]" + "she is hiding [something]" = "I don't know what she's hiding". (This is just a quick thought, though, and I believe you deserve a better answer. I hope you'll get one soon!) Aug 27, 2016 at 0:46
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    @P.E.Dant "I won't do that no matter what are the circumstances" sounds so wrong to me though. I'm a native speaker, and I've never heard anyone say that. But then again, that's why I'm here lol. I'm trying to get past the "it just sounds right / wrong" explanations for things we say in English because I know those feelings aren't always right. I'll start looking into the wh-questions and subject complements and see if that helps. Thanks for your help! Aug 27, 2016 at 2:48
  • 2
    I won't do that no matter what are the circumstances is wrong and I can't imagine why a native speaker would say otherwise. Even if what is 'emphasized'. Aug 27, 2016 at 5:46
  • 1
    By the way, @JustBlossom , don't be quick to dismiss "it just sounds right / wrong" as a criterion: it describes precisely one of the ways in which languages evolve. "Right" and "wrong" are the "wrong" terms, I think. There's nothing binary about any of it where language is concerned. Aug 28, 2016 at 0:53
  • 1
    @JimReynolds - Actually, there are 10 kinds. Aug 28, 2016 at 4:32

1 Answer 1


In this sentence:

She does not know who they are.

... the clause who they are is a noun clause. It acts here as the object of the verb know. A noun clause beginning with a Wh-question word is a form of indirect question, and an indirect question uses statement word order (Wh-word +subject +verb.)

The reason we do not say:

She does not know who are they.

...is that this places the noun clause in question word order.

The (not so simple!) rule of grammar to follow is:

When a noun clause beginning with a Wh-question word serves as the object of a verb, we treat the noun clause as an indirect question, which uses statement word order.

A similar usage rule applies to the adverbial clause ...no matter what the circumstances are. Here no matter is a subordinating conjunction followed by an indirect form of the question "What are the circumstances?" Statement word order is used.

Reported variations on this usage (such as those in commentary) await explanation.

  • +1 although the OP asked the question because they didn't believe that their noun clauses counted as indirect questions though, while they do grammatically. Aug 28, 2016 at 4:47
  • It takes a bit of squinting to bring the noun clause and indirect question into focus... Aug 28, 2016 at 4:56
  • @P.E.Dant Thanks for your help and the answer. That makes a lot of sense. Aug 28, 2016 at 5:39
  • Even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut. Aug 28, 2016 at 6:25

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