1

In indirect questions, the so-called penthouse principle disallows Subject-AV inversion.

Thus,

Cathy wonders what did Sam eat. (Incorrect)

Cathy wonders what Sam ate. (Correct)

What is the rule for a sentence like this?

Might I know who that person is?

Might I know who is that person? (Incorrect)

The above sentence admits of inversion. I can see it has an embedded interrogative clause within the matrix clause (the whole sentence).

Why is there no inversion in the matrix clause but inversion in the embedded clause?

2
  • Because "the rules are different if you live in the penthouse" - main and subordinate clauses are just treated differently when inversion takes place. Apr 6, 2021 at 8:31
  • @Andrew Tobilko Could you please elaborate on that? You're merely rephrasing the penthouse principle. :)
    – user40475
    Apr 6, 2021 at 8:52

1 Answer 1

1

The correct clause in these sentences has the question word at the front but no verbal inversion

Sam ate (something)

What Sam ate.

The word "what" is moved up to the front of the clause, but the subject (Sam) still precedes the verb (ate).

To form a standalone question you also have to invert the verb

What Same ate -> What Sam did eat [do support] -> What did Sam eat. [inversion].

Your "penthouse principle" doesn't allow for this inversion, so "Might I know what did Sam eat" is incorrect (though understandable)

But "is" doesnt need do support. So

That person is (someone)

Who that person is

The word "who" is moved up to the front of the clause, but the subject (that person) still precedes the verb (is).

To form a standalone question you also have to invert the verb

Who that person is -> who is that person

Your "penthouse principle" doesn't allow for this inversion, so "Might I know who is that person" is incorrect (though understandable)

5
  • Thanks a lot, @James K. I don't if this my asking you this makes any sense, but why does this so-called penthouse principle restrict us to construct such sentences? Is it some sacred cow of grammar or what?
    – user40475
    Apr 6, 2021 at 15:05
  • 1
    No, its is just a tendency, and not one specific to English. For example in German, the main clause is subject-Verb-Object, but subordinate clause are Subject-object-verb. There are other examples in other languages. So this is an observed tendency, rather than a strict law.
    – James K
    Apr 6, 2021 at 15:15
  • Could you please suggest further literature (available online) on fronting and inversion? @James K.
    – user40475
    Apr 6, 2021 at 15:17
  • 1
    bbc has something bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/course/towards-advanced/unit-25/…
    – James K
    Apr 6, 2021 at 15:26
  • Thanks a lot, @James K.
    – user40475
    Apr 6, 2021 at 15:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .