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Are all these sentences grammatically correct? And which is better to use in a formal speech?

  • when did you see him last?

or

  • when did you last see him?

or

  • when did the last time you see him?
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  • The first two are grammatically correct, because they are questions about a verb that is not to be, and we use do to ask questions about verbs like that. The last one is not grammatically correct, because it is asking a question about to be, and we don't use do to ask to be questions.
    – stangdon
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 15:15
  • Putting adverbial last at the end of the question (the first example above) is increasingly becoming "dated / literary / stylised", and should probably be avoided. Definitely don't reflect that sequence with an answer like I saw him last on Thursday. That version went out with the Victorians - today, it's always I last saw him on Thursday. Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 16:45

1 Answer 1

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The first two are fine. The second slightly suggests (to me) more concern about just when the seeing took place.

The third is wrong. You could say

When was the last time you saw him?

That would seem to me a more formal request about that time.

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  • I'm pretty sure the positioning of adverbial last in OP's first example is on the way out. There are closely-related contexts where it's already manifestly unacceptable (or at least, "marked") to many if not most native speakers. Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 16:49
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Fair enough - not something I knew. Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 16:50
  • It wasn't something I "knew" until I thought about it. I came to the conclusion that usage definitely is changing in this area, after which I created this NGram chart, which I think bears out my idea. Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 17:01

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