I was told that we don't use inversion when asking about the subject of a sentence.

I encountered these two sentences while surfing the internet.

Whose book won the prize?
Whose gloves are these?

If these are subject questions then why is there inversion in the second sentence?

  • Where do you think the inversion is? (i.e. please highlight the inversion in your question) Why do you think the first sentence doesn't have inversion but the second sentence does? – CJ Dennis Mar 8 '20 at 1:47

There is no inversion in the second sentence. These gloves are whose? Is equally valid as a question.

Your answer is in the verb “to be” as opposed to the verb “to win” and all other verbs.

The webpage http://guidetogrammar.org/grammar/to_be.htm explains the two forms of the verb “to be” – your example uses the linking form.

The verb “To be” acts as a linking verb, joining the sentence subject with a subject complement or adjective complement. A linking verb provides no action to a sentence: the subject complement re-identifies the subject; the adjective complement modifies it.

The result is that the nouns/noun phrases, etc on either side of the verb to be are equal and there is no subject or object to invert: it is the interrogative that creates the question.

If I adapt the two examples from the link:

Whose professor is the Director of Online Learning? - The Director of Online Learning is whose professor?

Which/Whose/What trip to Yellowstone was fantastic?

  • #Greybeard Just want to make sure I got you correctly. For example: How many people are there in your family? - this is an example of the interrogative question, right? Thank you once again. – Alexander Chlebowski Mar 7 '20 at 17:01
  • @ Alexander Chlebowski Yes. – Greybeard Mar 7 '20 at 17:24
  • I am so sorry to keep bothering you. But i still don't get one thing, namely if there is no subject or object to invert, why then in indirect question we say Could you tell me whose gloves these are? (switching places these are instead of are these) @Greybeard – Alexander Chlebowski Mar 31 '20 at 18:19
  • As I said, it concerns the verb "to be." -- we say Could you tell me whose gloves these are? but we can also say *Could you tell me whose gloves are these? * The latter places emphasis on "these", – Greybeard Mar 31 '20 at 19:13
  • The last question I swear =)) Does it always work this way? I mean, for example, is it correct to say: Could you tell me what time is it? (instead of - it is) – Alexander Chlebowski Apr 1 '20 at 17:15

In the first one the question word is replaced with the referent asked about without disturbing the word order:

Whose book won the prize?

His book won the prize.

The other question has a completely different structure. Here we have a linking be, so factors relevant for this construction are in play. The answer will involve a reversal of the subject and complement:

Whose gloves are these?

These are my gloves.

The subject and the complement swapped the places in the answer - instead of simply supplying "my" and saying "My gloves are these" the order has to be reversed too: "These are my gloves". This is where the sense of inversion comes from.

"My gloves are these" is a perfectly formed sentence, but it is not a possible answer to the question. (or more precisely, it would be a very unlikely reading. One would need to be extremely proud of his gloves and also very melodramatic sounding to put it that way.) The question asks not to point to a specific pair of gloves, but rather to tell something about them. (who they belong to). In general, reversing the positions of the subject and complement in the ascriptive linking construction is possible but not all that common.

"These" is a demonstrative and it obviously cannot be understood as ascribing a property to the subject "My gloves". Of course, if we replace "these" with an adjective, no role reversal in the answer will occur:

Whose gloves are the warmest?

My gloves are the warmest.

The expected and natural order in the ascriptive construction is : subject - property ascribed to the subject. "My gloves - warmest" fits the ascriptive pattern, "My gloves - these" doesn't. "These - my gloves" does.

If the question is asking to specify the subject, no reversal of roles will be required either:

Which gloves are yours?

These gloves are mine.

The question determines the kind of interpretation that the answer will receive. In writing, the sentence "These gloves are mine" in isolation can be interpreted in two ways. When spoken, the sentence stress will suggest the appropriate interpretation.

  • Hello again, guys! I was thinking. If there was no inversion in the sentence, then why do we say Could you tell me whose house this is - not - could you tell me whose house is this( in the indirect question)? – Alexander Chlebowski Mar 30 '20 at 18:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.