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I don't know what to do.

Here, is what to do a clause?

If so, what's the reasoning for that?

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  • Yes. It's an interrogative infinitival clause functioning as complement of "know". – user178049 Mar 14 '18 at 5:10
  • Excuse me for what must seem a silly question, but why is it important to know whether "what to do" is a clause or not? What do you hope to learn from answers? What do you say it is? – Mari-Lou A Mar 14 '18 at 8:35
  • @Mari-LouA If it had to be a clause, then a VP headed by a non-finite verb should be treated as a clause, I think. – JK2 Mar 14 '18 at 9:25
  • "had to be"? As in, someone in the past said there was no other choice? – Mari-Lou A Mar 14 '18 at 9:29
  • a verb phrase headed by a non-finite verb should be treated as a clause What do you mean? Is someone saying that "what to do" is not a clause. And if they are, why does it matter? If you consider it a clause, and you want it confirmed then that is what you should ask. – Mari-Lou A Mar 14 '18 at 9:36
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Yes it is.

Clause is a part of sentence that has a subject & a predicate yet doesn't make complete sense (like a sentence).

In 'what to do' alone, 'what' is an interrogative pronoun that acts as the subject.

Therefore 'what to do' is a clause.

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In the sentence

I don't know what to do.

what to do is not a clause because it does not have a verb (except an infinitive).

An example where what (something) is a clause is:

I don't know what time it is.

In this second example, we have the verb is which makes what time it is a clause.


So what is "what to do"? It is definitely a phrase. However, I am not an expert in English language theory, and I cannot guarantee the correctness of my answer below.

Comparing:

  • I don't know what to do.

  • I don't know anything.

  • I don't know my weight.

then "what to do" could be a (pro)noun phrase.

-2

"What to do" is not a clause. It is, with the verb, the sentence predicate and the object of the sentence. Let's use a simpler sentence.

I know that.

Subject: I
Verb: know
Object: that

Thus, from your example:

Subject: I
Verb: do not know
Object: what to do

You may be confused because the phrases "I know" and "I don't know" are frequently used to answer questions. They're colloquialisms and not complete sentences (lacking an object). Please remember that clauses can be removed from their sentences and what's left behind remains a complete sentence. Thus,

I know what to do because John taught me.

The phrase "because John taught me" is a clause. When removed, you're left with the complete sentence, "I know what to do."

  • If you think 'what to do' is not a clause, I suggest you should at least tell me what you think it really is. Do you think it's a noun phrase? OR something else? – JK2 Mar 14 '18 at 4:42
  • Your question doesn't make sense. You could describe a clause as a compound adjective or a compound adverb, but the role it plays in the sentence is that of "clause." In specific, the interrogative pronoun "what" is the direct object of the infinitive "to do." You could describe the phrase as a compound pronoun, but the role it plays in the sentence is that of "object." That is what it really is. – JBH Mar 14 '18 at 4:52
  • I don't understand this: "Please remember that clauses can be removed from their sentences and what's left behind remains a complete sentence." IF this is true, what about I don't know what I should do.? Here, what I should do is definitely a clause. But according to your logic, removing it only leaves 'I don't know', which you somehow argue is not a complete sentence. – JK2 Mar 14 '18 at 4:59
  • Why do you believe it is a clause? The object of the sentence is still the word "what." Adding an auxilliary verb to the infinitive doesn't transform the predicate. – JBH Mar 14 '18 at 5:01
  • Then, consider this sentence instead: I know you're mistaken. Here, you're mistaken is clearly a clause, right? Then, removing it leaves only I know, which you yourself said is not a complete sentence. What gives? – JK2 Mar 14 '18 at 5:05

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