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I know that phrases like "How to do something" are NOT questions. For example, it's incorrect to ask:

  • How to say "Hello" in Chinese?

Let's consider the phrase:

  • What to do in such a situation? (I assume that the context is known to listeners)

Is it also NOT a question? What will be a correct question then? If it IS a question, then why the first phrase is NOT?

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  • As part of a narrative, it could be understood to mean "What was he/she to do in such a situation?", but of course it's not the right way to ask a question in ordinary conversation. – Kate Bunting Dec 17 '20 at 16:57
  • What to do in such a situation is NOT a question, for exactly the same reason How to do something isn't. They're noun phrases (that could "correctly" be used to reference an answer to the relevant question). The most likely place you'll see one of these "non-questions" is as a title / heading for some text which is in fact an "answer" (so the title is telling you what follows). – FumbleFingers Dec 17 '20 at 17:33
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Is the phrase 'What makes work efficient' a noun phrase or a question? – Daniel Dec 17 '20 at 17:45
  • Consider What makes work efficient is careful preparation and I know what makes work efficient . In those sentences, the highlighted text is a noun phrase. But if I ask What makes work efficient?, that exact same text becomes a "question". Context is everything. – FumbleFingers Dec 17 '20 at 17:49
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica But a context can't make the phrase 'How to say "Hello" in Chinese' to be a question. So why the phrase 'What makes work efficient' can be either a noun phase or a question depending on the context? – Daniel Dec 17 '20 at 18:01
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I think both of those sentences can be questions. Frequently, the "How to do something" sentence is used as a paragraph or section header. Similar to newspaper headlines, section headers do not always follow standard grammar and the "How to do something" construction is often interpreted as a declarative statement instead of an interrogative question.

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    I think neither of those (OP's) sentences can be questions. – FumbleFingers Dec 17 '20 at 18:21
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These statements can be questions or declarations. For example:

How to say "hello" in Chinese: nihao

How to make a cake: step 1 - add flour and salt to bowl and mix.

The inflection of one's voice in spoken English helps to determine if it's a question.

These statements are also not complete sentences. As a question, these sentences should include an actor or subject: "How do you say "hello" in Chinese?" and "What is one to do in such a situation?"

Likewise, in a question, the subject and the verb often change places, whether or not you're using an interrogative pronoun or adverb (who, what, where, when, why, how). Consider the following:

Do I have to do this? How do I make soup?

Versus

I do have to do this. That's how I make soup*.

*using the adverb how usually means you need to explain it further, or you would say "That's how I make gazpacho" without explaining it further because you had already explained it in previous sentences. It's not a phrase that would stand on its own.

Both examples you originally gave are not grammatically correct, but may appear informally. Try to include a Subject, Verb, and direct Object in all sentences, and remember that statements are usually SVO and questions are usually [interrogative adverb]VSO, and that verb is usually a modal or auxiliary verb (do/does/did, can, may, shall, will, would, etc.).

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Neither phrase is a question. They are correct phrases, and they can function like nouns in sentences:

Please tell me *how to say "Hello" in Chinese".

I know what to do in such a situation.

Neither phrase is a complete sentence on its own. The verbs "to say" or "to do" are infinitive and English sentences need a finite verb.

The correct question needs a pronoun. I'll use "you"

What do you do in such a situation.

It is likely that the actual question would be "What should you do..." or "What do you have to do" or similar.

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