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"Do not let any failures discourage you, for you can never tell how close you may be to victory. "

In the sentence, an “exclamatory sentence”, "how close you may be to victory" , acts as an object. I am wondering whether an exclamatory sentence can acts as a subject, complement or appositive.

Do the following sentences sound natural to you?

Sentence 1: How close you may be to victory is never known.

Sentence 2: My question is how close they can be to victory.

Sentence 3: They have no idea how close they may be to victory.

Thank you in advance!

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All of these sentences are acceptable.

But the clauses you are concerned with are not exclamatory. How here is the ordinary interrogative, deployed as the head of a construction known as a ‘free relative clause’ or ‘fused relative clause’. In cases like this, where the clause retains a distinct interrogative sense, it is called an ‘embedded question’:

How close may you be to victory? → You can never tell tell how close you may be to victory.

Note that although the clause has an interrogative sense it does not undergo subject/auxiliary inversion or take do support.

The sense of this construction is that the entire clause ‘stands for’ the answer to the question it asks. The clause acts as an NP, so it may indeed stand as a subject, object or appositive.

We have several questions here on the tag which furnish more examples of these constructions and more information about them.

| improve this answer | |
  • Do the following sentences sound natural to you? “I was surprised by her words, which made me recognize what silly mistakes I had made.” "What silly mistakes I had made shocked me." "She has no idea what silly mistakes she had made." "My point is what silly mistakes she had made" – April Aug 28 '14 at 7:26
  • @April You have mastered this construction! – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 28 '14 at 10:02

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