1

Having a ‘gaydar’ means that you will easily recognize who is gay.

I was a little bit puzzled by the word order in this sentence. I expected this form:

Having a ‘gaydar’ means that you will easily recognize** who gay is**.

But I was told by a native speaker that If I said "who Gay is" it would mean that gaydar helps you spot people whose name is "Gay" (a female name in English). So am I right with the explanation of the following sentences?

Tell me who you are. (Tell me your name.)

Tell me who are you. (Tell me what kind of personality you have, what is your character etc.)

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  • No. It is not about the order changing the meaning. It is all about the order reflecting the subject. In one case, who is the subject; in the other it's Gay. Hence the difference in meaning. But in your case, the subject of both questions is still you. So you end up with two questions meaning the exact same thing, but one of them being ungrammatical because of the wrong word order. – ЯegDwight Aug 11 '14 at 12:18
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    You don't have "a gaydar," you have "good gaydar." – CocoPop Aug 11 '14 at 12:26
4

Gay is an adjective. In similar sentences, the word order is the same:

Can you tell me who is happy?
Can you see who is tall?
I can see who is scared.

Indeed, the construction where you turn the verb and the adjective around are not grammatical; but when you are looking for a specific person, you do move the verb:

Tell me who John is!
Can you see who the tallest person is?

So, yes, your native speaker was right. Consider these two sentences:

Can who see who's happy?
Can you tell me who Happy is?

In the first case I am talking about happy people — in the second case I am asking to identify one of the seven dwarfs.

About your two sentences, tell me who are you is simply not idiomatic. It will be understood, but the sentence would not be used in that form.

They have little to do with your original sentence, by the way. This is a simple case of inversion in indirect speech.

Direct speech: Tell me: "Who are you?"
Indirect speech: Tell me who you are.

They can both mean that I want to know your name; they can both mean I want to know everything about you. It all depends on context.

4

This is a subordinate clause, not a question.

Who is gay?
Why are you asking me who is gay?
I thought that with your gaydar you'd know who's gay.

The 'who is gay' is like a little sentence, treated as a noun, and we can replace it with that to make that clearer.

Why are you asking me that?
I thought that with your gaydar you'd know that.

There's a catch. If the clause (little sentence inside the sentence) is asking who or what or why (etc.) about the subject, then we use a different word order.

Who is Bill?
Why are you asking me who Bill is?
I thought that you'd know him, because Bill is gay.

Regarding the last part of your question, you can say:

Tell me who you are.

This is basically answered as "I am a robot with green eyes." or "I'm Georgie." or whatever.

However, to 'flip' the order as you try to do in the second, it needs to be something where the word you is now the subject.

So try these:

Nice school photo! Tell me which one is you.
Tell me which one of the crazy people who spraypainted faces on my car last night was you.

Note that in the second part, the subject is "which one of the crazy people...". The answer might be: "The thirty-fifth one was I." (In reality, most people I hear today would say "The thirty-fifth one was me." although technically I is correct.)

3

She is there.

Why is she there?

This is a direct question. In direct questions, subject and verb switch places.

She is there.

Tell me why she is there.

The last example is an indirect question. In indirect questions, subject and verb are not switched: the normal word order is preserved. The only thing with relative and interrogative subordinate clauses is that the interrogative or relative pronoun (in this case, why) must come first.

She is gay.

Who is gay? (who stands for she, but it's not is who gay? , because who must come first)

Tell me who is gay.

Who replaces she, the subject; the normal word order from she is gay is preserved in the indirect question ( Tell me who is gay. ) as expected. In the direct question ( Who is gay? ), the word order is only preserved by accident, only because who must come first.

Cleopatra is my lover.

Who is Cleopatra?

In this case, Cleopatra is the subject, my lover the subject complement. The word who stands for my lover. The word who must come first*, so it starts with who. It is a direct question, so subject and verb are inverted ( Cleopatra is → is Cleopatra ).

I don't know who **Cleopatra i**s.

This is an indirect question, so there is no inversion: it's Cleopatra is. The interrogative pronoun who still has to come first.

If you had a sentence like this:

Gay is my friend. (normal word order)

Then it would go like this:

Who is Gay? (subject and verb switched)

Tell me who Gay is. (normal word order)

Then gay would be the subject, so it would have to be a noun; but there is no noun gay, so the only possibility would be the name of a person, with a capital: someone named Gay. This is not what you mean, so this is simply incorrect in context.

My friend is gay. (normal word order)

Who is gay?

In a direct question, like this one, word order would normally be inverted, so is who, except that who must come first, so the inversion becomes invisible.

Tell me who is gay. (normal word order)

In the indirect question, we have the normal word order, as expected.

Tell me who are you.

This is just wrong. It is an indirect question, so this would have to be the normal word order. Then the basic statement should have been this:

Someone are you.

This is wrong. Alternatively, someone might have been somewhere else in the original statement (because who must come first, it may obscure the original position of someone):

Are you someone.

This is also wrong. As a direct question, it would work; but this would have to be the original statement, and in a statement you can't start with the verb like this. So your tell me who are you is not possible.

Tell me, who are you?

This is possible, because it is a simple direct question, because of the comma and the question mark. It has the same word order as when you leave out tell me:

You are my friend. (normal word order)

Who are you? (inverted)

It is a direct question, so subject and verb are inverted. The word who must come first.

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