I was afraid to ask this question since I couldn't find any reference online and it kind of breaks the rules of grammar, but I'm curious to know if it can have any meaning and may be possible in casual speech since I doubt it can be applied anywhere in writing or formal English.

The normal order in an interrogative sentence is:

  • What does this day mean to you?

But what if we remove the helping verb and invert the verb and object:

  • What means this day to you?

I'm researching, so it's interesting to know whether this is possible.

What if we have this sentence:

  • What does it change if we tell him about this?

If we remove the helping verb and invert the words we get:

  • What changes it if we tell him about this?

But "it" kind of sounds strange now. And is it a dummy it or an object? What if we remove it?

  • What changes if we tell him about this?

Will this sentence mean the same thing as the one with the helping word?

What if we use other question words such as "How" or "Where" for instance?

  • How helps this get him out of jail? (How does this help to get him out of jail)
  • Where comes this from? (Where does this come from?)

I wouldn't want to be accused in any way so this is just a curiousity. I'm trying to study good and correct English.

  • 1
    As Nicholas says, it's not contemporary but archaic; it survives in some regional dialects. For example, What say ye to this? What matters it to me? books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 12:15

1 Answer 1


SovereignSun. All of the ways you have said it above using inversion without the auxilliary "do/does" would technically be correct; however, many of those would be considered archaic constructions of questions in English today. It is often seen in Shakespeare and questions using archaic speech:

Whither goest thou? (Where do you go? / Where are you going?)

Whence comest thou? (Where do you come from? / Where are you coming from?)

What knowest thou? (What do you know?)

You could get away with a few of them; however, others would be confusing such as this one:

What changes it if we tell him about this?

In this one, it sounds strange because the reader may confuse the "it" for the object of the sentence and he may also think that "what" is the subject even though you actually mean for it to be the reverse. I do some of these inversions every now and then, especially to save time in texting, but confusion in third person present singular can occur as evinced in the example above. One of the most common inversions like this in Modern English is using the verb "say":

What say you? (What do you say?)

What says he? (What does he say?)

When I text, I sometimes use interrogative inversion, especially in the past tense, to save time and I can get away with it. It just sounds formal or a bit archaic. Recently, I texted:

"What said he?" (What did he say?)

"How much spent he?" (How much did he spend?)

Your first example above is one that you could definitely get away with, especially in literary English:

What means this day to you?

As for the one below: you could get away with rewording it to say:

What changes if we tell him about this?

Here, "what" would be the subject, but it means the same thing as:

What does it change if we tell him about this?

So it's not incorrect English; it's just archaic English and can either be highly formal or even confusing when a pronoun such as "it" or "you" looks like an objective pronoun in the interrogative (Remember, in English, "it" and "you" are both the subjective and objective pronominal forms). I hope that might have helped you out, SovereignSun.

  • My name's Alexander for clarity. Thank you. So these construction aren't considered as incorrect? Would a person be thought to have a bad knowledge of English should he use such constructions? Does it identify a non-native speaker? Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 5:25
  • Also for clarity, does there exist a slightest difference between "What does this day mean to you?" and "What means this day to you?" Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 5:27
  • Well, I said it was archaic-sounding, Alexander, which means that normal people aren't going around throwing these things about. There are some like a few that you have written above that would probably not be said because they are confusing as to what the subject and object are, but I've given you examples that are common and that I use when I text. I would stay away from them because when using archaic language like this, one really has to be a native speaker to have an ear for it since it will work well sometimes and not others.
    – Nick
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 5:57
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    There is no difference between "What does this day mean to you?" and "What means this day to you?"--one is just the normal way it is said and the other one is the way I would expect Dumbledore to say it from the "Harry Potter" series. In other words, I would expect "What means this day to you?" to be said by someone who is being very dramatic like in the conversation we once had about my walking into an interview wearing a jabot and periwig and saying, "Good sir, it is I, the Great Nick, at your service," while gesticulating.
    – Nick
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 6:01
  • 2
    Actually, I've listened to the song "What means the world to you?" He is not using inversion therein; "what" is the subject and the "the world" is the object. He's asking the question awkwardly. Basically, someone must have said, "It means the world to me" and he's asking, "What means the world to you?" and then he lists some of those things such as "his money" and other stuff that may be the subject. This is the reason that inversion is seldom used in interrogatives in Modern English: because the subject and object can become confused as you and I were confused at first glance herein.
    – Nick
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 6:39

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