2

(+) While I was sleeping, a thief stole my purse.
(-) While I wasn't sleeping, a thief stole my purse.
(?) While was I sleeping, a thief stole my purse?

Is this correct grammatically?

Thanks a lot!

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  • 3
    What's wrong with the second one? It doesn't make much sense, but grammatically it's fine. The third one's ungrammatical; "While I was sleeping did a thief steal my purse?" would be OK. Jan 23 '14 at 2:34
  • 1
    I think +/-/? is for "positive, negative, question." I agree with StoneyB: in order, grammatical, weird thing to say but grammatical, not grammatical.
    – hunter
    Jan 23 '14 at 2:38
  • The second one is perfectly grammatical. Replace the verb and you get: "While I wasn't looking, a thief stole my purse", which is perfectly fine. I don't think there's any grammatical difference between sleeping and looking. Feb 1 '14 at 21:16
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Positive

While I was sleeping, a thief stole my purse.

This is grammatically correct. Alternatively:

A thief stole my purse while I was sleeping.

Negative

When I wasn't sleeping, a thief stole my purse.

Alternatively:

A thief stole my purse when I was awake.

Query

While I was sleeping, did a thief steal my purse?

Alternatively:

Did a thief steal my purse while I was sleeping?

1
  • "While was" isn't a thing.
    – quietmint
    Feb 1 '14 at 1:15
1

This is too long for a comment, but does not really answer your question. The construction you labeled (?) is very interesting.

As you know, especially in spoken English, some statements can be turned into questions by raising the voice toward the end (which can't be written, but which can be denoted with a question mark):

"You're going to school tomorrow?" = "Are you going to school tomorrow."

You have identified a specific situation where this can't happen, but I can't tell you the rule. It's not the past progressive:

"You went to work while I was sleeping?" -- sounds fine to me, but "While I was sleeping, you went to work?" does not. I hope a grammar expert will shed some light.

EDIT: my sense is that we use the "tone of voice" construction to make a question most often when we expect that the answer is yes and we are confirming that this is the case... you might call it a "confirmational question." So it's not quite identical to the syntactic question, but it's close enough.

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  • 2
    I don't think there's anything wrong with, "While I was sleeping, you went to work??" as a question.
    – Jim
    Jan 23 '14 at 4:24
  • very interesting -- do you think OP's third question is grammatical? maybe it is just the semantics playing with my head.
    – hunter
    Jan 23 '14 at 6:58
  • Third one definitely not grammatical. For the above, imagine a situation like this: Your friend has promised to stay with you because you aren't feeling well and you feel like you might need to be taken to the hospital at any time. Sometime during the day, you manage to fall asleep. When you wake up your friend says, "Mary (a friend from work) says you should drink some Gatorade." You ask, "When did you talk to Mary?" Your friend says, "A few hours ago I went in and got my laptop." You then ask incredulously, "Wait! While I was sleeping, you went to work?!"
    – Jim
    Jan 23 '14 at 7:05
  • just noticed the order inversion in the third question of OP, you are right, definitely not grammatical. And yes, your story makes complete sense -- I fold on all points on my answer!
    – hunter
    Jan 23 '14 at 7:08
  • To make a question from an affirmative sentence, we say While I was sleeping, did a thief steal my purse?, and not *While was I sleeping, a thief stole my purse?, because [a thief stole my purse] is the main clause and [While was I sleeping] is an subordinate clause (aka dependent clause). We invert the main clause to make it a question, not the subordinate clause(s). Jan 23 '14 at 9:36

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