In Longman Dictionary of American English, a sentence reads: "This shows you which are the most important words to know." Shouldn't it read: "This shows you which the most important words are to know?"

  • The book is correct, but I couldn't tell you why off of the top of my head, so I'm not going to make that into a proper answer. The construction you created in your second sentence looks wrong to me.
    – nick012000
    Aug 11 '18 at 13:01

Both are valid, as is "This shows you which the most important words to know are" (which is the phrasing you'd be most likely to encounter in speech).

"Which the most important books are to know" is the least "proper" of the three, because the words are the ones it is most important to know, so putting a verb in the middle of that specifier-phrase seems to separate it from its associated noun. To put it another way, the subject of the verb "to be" is "the most important books to know", so splitting that phrase with a verb is not ideal - but it's relatively common nonetheless.

  • Can you back that up with a reference? The second sentence in the question looks wrong to me, but I can't pinpoint why.
    – nick012000
    Aug 11 '18 at 13:02
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    @nick012000 it's unusual, and it feels clunky because it splits the adjective-construct "most (important (to know))", but it's a common enough structure in actual use that from a descriptivist perspective it's valid. Don't have a reference, though.
    – Darael
    Aug 11 '18 at 13:05
  • I have edited in a second paragraph to my answer to make note of this.
    – Darael
    Aug 11 '18 at 13:10
  • en.booksee.org/book/1468837 Here is a link to the dictionary. Download the PDF, open it, and search for the first sentence: ""This shows you which are the most important words to know."" Aug 11 '18 at 13:53
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    @M.Alobaidi No dictionary is exhaustive of all grammatical possibilities. Just because it uses something doesn't mean there aren't other variations. And an example being correct doesn't mean it's the most common. Note, too, that there are more than only three variations of your particular sentence. Personally, I would likely use This shows you which words are the most important to know.* Aug 11 '18 at 15:43

which there is a pronoun.

We will give the two of them a lie-detector test and see which is telling the truth.

Your suggestion:

This shows you which the most important words are to know.

is ungrammatical.

The price tag shows you which the most expensive items are to buy. ungrammatical

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