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This comes from an exercise in one of Betty Azar's books.

Do you know how many minutes there are in 24 hours?

Do you know what the distance between the Earth and the Moon is?

The question is, why can I end the second sentence with "is" but not the first one with "are"?

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  • Should I just delete and repost over there? I didn't realize they were separate sites.
    – SheepKeep
    Jul 2 at 3:43
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    Those sentences came out of a Betty Azar book??? The first is unnatural at best ("Do you know how many minutes there are...), and the second is bad grammar (Do you know what the distance between the Earth and the moon is?"). You can't ask how far a distance is.
    – gotube
    Jul 2 at 6:43
  • @gotube Why did you capitalize the Earth and not the moon? By the way, you are right about this example. Jul 2 at 16:23
  • @gotube Then replace "how far" with "how long." Why the necessary difference in construction? In other words, why can't I say "Do you know how many minutes in an hour are?" How is this grammatically different from "Do you how long the distance from here to the Moon is?" I also don't think there's anything "unnatural" or ungrammatical about removing "there" from these types of questions. Thanks again.
    – SheepKeep
    Jul 13 at 18:23
  • For my last point I mean removing "there" from questions like, "How many people are in the house?" I understand it's necessary in "Do you know how many minutes in an hour there are?" but I don't understand why.
    – SheepKeep
    Jul 13 at 18:34
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There's no rule here about "ending sentences with is/are". There is a rule about moving interrogative pronouns (wh-questions) to the front of a sentence, and sometimes that leaves the verb ("is/are" in your examples) at the end of the sentence.

In your examples, the difference is in the structures of the two noun clauses after "Do you know...".

The deep structure of the first noun clause is:

subject + verb + subject complement + adverbial

Step A) "[there] + [are] + [60 minutes] + [in 24 hours]"

The question is about "60 minutes", so we replace that section with a wh-question:

Step B) "[there] [are] [how many minutes] [in 24 hours]"

As with all interrogative pronouns, we move the wh-question to the front of the clause:

Step C) "[how many minutes] [there] [are] [in 24 hours]"

Which gives, "Do you know how many minutes there are in 24 hours?"


With the second, the deep structure is:

subject + verb + subject complement

Step A) [the distance between the Earth and the Moon] + [is] + [400,000 km]

We are asking the question about the 400,000 km, so we replace that with a wh-question:

Step B) [the distance between the Earth and the Moon] [is] [what]

Finally, we move the wh-question to the front of the clause:

Step C) [what] [the distance between the Earth and the Moon] [is]

Which gives, "Do you know what the distance between the Earth and the Moon is?"

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