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It feels right and wrong at the same time.

I know these alternatives would be correct:

Josh wondered: how handicapped were the people who could not see the way he could?

Josh wondered how handicapped the people who could not see the way he could were.

The first one is clear but a bit formal, and the second reads like a gardenpath sentence to me because the noun phrase ("the people who could not see the way he could") is very long and ends in a verb.

Can I put the verb were where I want it to go, after "the people"?

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  • I think your version (as in the title) is the best. It's poor writing style to stick the verb at the end, so widely separated from people. Oct 12, 2021 at 9:34
  • @KateBunting I agree that it sounds the best, though I'm not sure if splitting the noun phrase in two works like that. "Were" applies to the entire phrase and now it's in the middle of it.
    – KeizerHarm
    Oct 12, 2021 at 9:36
  • Yes, it does work. You could say '...those people were...' instead. Oct 12, 2021 at 11:49

1 Answer 1

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Take a simpler sentence and it's easy to see where the "were" should go:

How good were the dancers?

Adding a separate "he wondered" clause doesn't change anything:

He wondered: how good were the dancers?

Replace the adjective and the noun phrase and you get:

He wondered: how handicapped were the people who could not see the way he could?

You think it sounds formal, but it's the correct way.

You would have to change the punctuation and add two words if you want to put were after the people.

He wondered how handicapped the people were: the ones who could not see the way he could.

This works because were is now part of the "he wondered" clause. It's no longer in a question-clause, so it doesn't have to be moved before the noun. In informal speech, this is probably what many people would say.

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