I have read and heard these kinds of sentences or utterances many times:

"It might be a stupid question but can fish breath?"

"I don´t know how to say this but you should change your life!"

I don´t understand how to grammatically analyze this correctly. Are these introductory phrases (and therefore a comma has to follow before, "but"!?) followed by a question or an imperative sentence or is a different kind of thing? I can´t make sense of it otherwise because, "This might be a stupid question" can´t really stand by itself for example, can it?

A further question I have is if you have to pose the question or the imperative statement right after, "but". For example:

"It might be a stupid question but it is a question nonetheless: Do fish breath?"

or even

"It might be a stupid question but it is a question I might not pose otherwise. Last year I......and then......(a number of sentences might follow). Do fish breath?"

  • "This might be a stupid question" can definitely be a stand-alone question. I might be ten feet tall. Today might be rainy. This might be Uncle John's umbrella. etc., etc.
    – stangdon
    Mar 9, 2018 at 20:52
  • I was talking about these examples in connection with, "but" only. Mar 9, 2018 at 21:35

1 Answer 1


I think you are basically correct in your understanding. I would rewrite these sentences this way to be more explicit:

This might be a stupid question but I'm going to ask anyway: Do fish breathe?

Note that this is informal speech, also common on the internet, but would not be appropriate in more proper written communication. It's not great grammar.

  • I figured that. To me, it´s not grammar at all. I don´t understand how you could pose a question by introducing it like that and then link everything with, "but". So, formally speaking it is incorrect? All of it? I have to teach English one day. That is why I need to know in detail. Mar 9, 2018 at 21:36
  • I would not write this on a college essay or on the SAT but it's perfectly normal in speech.
    – farnsy
    Mar 10, 2018 at 10:02

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