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We have a sentence that is "A is B". Then we all know that other sentences like "Please show me what A is." are grammatically OK.

However I do not know what is grammatically wrong with sentences like "Please show me what is B".

As suggested in some comments, I've added the following part to the question. The argument rooted from this conversation:

Suppose Y is on a very high tree, X is on the ground.

X: Look beneath you.

Y: Tell me where is beneath exactly?

I was told that Y's statement was grammatically wrong but I don't know why. Then I link it with other situations with who/what etc.

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    First: grammatically. Second: "please show me which is/are X" is fine, as would be "please show me what blue is"; part of the problem is that your example is in an ambiguous space between those two different requests, and would automatically be avoided for that reason.
    – keshlam
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 16:19
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    Please indicate in your question why you think that "Please show me what is B" is wrong. Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 16:59
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    Subordinate interrogative clauses do not normally have subject-auxiliary inversion, and for this reason your second example would be considered ungrammatical by many people. However, some varieties of English (mainly in the USA) do allow interrogatives with subject-auxiliary inversion in contexts of strong question-orientation.
    – BillJ
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 17:17
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    If B is a noun that you are asking someone to define, it should be what B is. If B is an adjective and you are asking what thing can be described as B, then what is B makes sense. Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 17:20
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    The reason the native speaker said that is because: Where is B? is a question in English. And to make a statement from it you place the verb at the end: Show me where B is.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 17:26

2 Answers 2

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[1] Please show me [what A is].

[2] %Please show me [what is B].

The bracketed elements in [1] and [2] are subordinate interrogative clauses (embedded questions).

Generally subordinate interrogatives do not have subject-auxiliary inversion, as in [1].

[2] contains inversion and hence is likely be considered ungrammatical by most speakers.

However, some varieties of English (mainly in the USA) do allow interrogatives with subject-auxiliary inversion in contexts of strong question-orientation. For those speakers [2] is likely to be acceptable.

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  • When I read "what is B" I am expecting to see a question mark there while "what B is" is a statement. Also, "what is B" I think the stress is on "is" and "what B is" the stress is on "B". Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 16:33
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There is nothing wrong with "Please show me what is B."

Let's start with a couple of examples:

Please show me what is right.

The above example is a correct sentence. The expectation is that the speaker will be shown which is the correct, right, proper, preferred, etc. of two or more choices.

Please show me what right is.

The above example is also a correct sentence. But the expectation is that the speaker will be shown something that exemplifies, demonstrates, or defines the meaning of "right" (and in this specific case, we don't know if we're talking about right as in "the right thing to do" or right as in "turn to the right").

However, those two examples do not demonstrate a predictable rule.

A problem is that depending on the context of the two examples, above, the expectations can change.

I understand that you believe you know what is right, but I do not believe you understand what right is. Please show me what is right.

In the above example, the word "right" means correct, proper, preferred, etc., even though both sentence structures were used.

When George Bernard Shaw said, “The British and the Americans are two great peoples divided by a common tongue,” his witty statement failed to reveal the devastating truth. Put two people who believe they understand English in the same room, regardless of education or training, and an argument is inevitable. Such is the curse and the blessing of a living language.

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    But it's all about subject-auxiliary inversion in subordinate interrogatives, which you haven't mentioned.
    – BillJ
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 17:39
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    @BillJ That would be a fantastic thing to discuss in an answer on English Language & Usage. I'm answering the OP's question in a way I believe will make sense to the OP, who (I'm willing to bet a milkshake on this), probably hasn't heard the phrase "subject-auxiliary inversion in subordinate interrogatives" before in his/her life. Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought English Language & Usage was for people mastering the language and English Language Learners was for people beginning their journey.
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 18:37
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    @Ng. There's nothing wrong with it grammatically, but it is an odd question to ask. The question is asking for a definition or example of "someone." I can imagine it asked rhetorically at a self-help seminar (or in an English language class!) - but there's nothing wrong with it.
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 16:09
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    (a) "Please show me what B is" and (b) "Please show me what is B" have the same meaning, i.e. "Please show me the answer to the question 'What is B?'". The difference is grammatical, with (b) which has subject-auxiliary inversion being unacceptable for most speakers
    – BillJ
    Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 17:05
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    @BillJ Your first assertion may be true by the strict definition of Grammar, but it isn't true when compared to the living language in my area. And I hear phrases like, "which is what?" "What is true?" "What is truth?" etc. far too often to believe your second assertion. It's merely the less common.
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 0:41

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