The sentence "She didn't even know who Pirandello was" is in reported speech but my student asked why "was" goes at the end of the sentence.

Many thanks.

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    I don't think that's "reported speech", which would be "She said she didn't know...". Jul 6, 2020 at 17:48
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    I can't see any reported speech. Anyway, the answer is that it's because "who Pirandello was" is a subordinate interrogative clause (embedded question) and such clauses don't have subject-auxiliary inversion. The subject of the interrogative clause is "Pirandello", the verb is "was" and "who" is predicative complement.
    – BillJ
    Jul 6, 2020 at 18:04
  • Incidentally, you could also say "She didn't even know who was Pirandello", with no change in meaning.
    – BillJ
    Jul 6, 2020 at 18:38

1 Answer 1


Indirect or embedded questions follow the affirmative order. Thus, if we have:

  • Who is Pirandello?

the question needs to be reported as:

  • She didn't know who Pirandello was. (Imitating the order in: Pirandello was an Italian writer, where "Pirandello" is the subject and "an Italian writer" is the subject complement.)

A sentence containing "She didn't know who was ..." would only be possible if the phrase completing the blank were the subject complement, for example:

  • Who was the author of "Six Characters in Search of an Author"?

In this particular case, the question could be reported as:

  • She didn't know who was the author of .... (Imitating the order in: Pirandello was the author of ....)

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