Where do you think he went afterwards?
(The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith)
CGEL's anaylis: Where (i) [do you think [he went __(i) afterwards?]] (* (i) -> co-indexed)

The sequence of above sentence is quite strange for alien’s eye. CGEL says it is consisted of an open interrogative and a content clause (he went Ø afterwards); ‘where’ is a prenuclear antecedent. And the content clause is embedded in the interrogative (p.p.1082-5). My questions here is, is this word, ‘where,’ interpreted twice? I mean, does ‘where’ have its semantic role in both ‘where do you think’ and ‘he went Ø afterwards’? Or just once?

  • I think the he went Ø afterwards element is an "implicature" (the implication of "Where do you think he went?" is that he did in fact go somewhere). But I'm not sure it's meaningful to say that syntactically/grammatically this implies that you the hearer "interpret" the word where twice (once to understand that you're being "told" there is in fact a location to which he went, then again to understand that you're being asked what you think that location is. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 13:50

1 Answer 1


1) "Where(i) [ do you think [ (that) he went ____(i) afterwards] ] ?"

Let's first look at a somewhat related declarative clause version for that interrogative clause:

  • 2) "You think [ (that) he went to the store afterwards]."

Now let's convert that to an interrogative clause with the interrogative word in situ:

  • 3) "You think [ (that) he went where afterwards] ?"

Now let's front that interrogative word:

  • 4) "Where(i) do [you think [ (that) he went ____(i) afterwards] ] ?"

Basically, versions #3 and #4 will usually be interpreted to have the same meaning.

As to what goes through the reader's (or listener's) head when reading (or hearing) your original example, I'd suppose that it would be similar to whatever happens when processing fronted elements in general. For instance, from CGEL page 1372:

  • [1.i] Most of it(i) she had written ____(i) herself.

  • [1.ii] Anything you don't eat(i) put ____(i) back in the fridge.

  • [1.iii] It appears that from one of them(i) he had borrowed several hundred dollars ____(i).

Your question would also apply to those examples too -- as to how the reader processes the fronted element and its associated gap, whether the info is processed once or twice.

I'm not sure where that kind of info can be found. Perhaps somewhere in some subfield within linguistics, maybe?

My questions here is, is this word, ‘where,’ interpreted twice? I mean, does ‘where’ have its semantic role in both ‘where do you think’ and ‘he went Ø afterwards’? Or just once?

For your example, it seems to me that the word "where" doesn't mean much semantically until the embedded content clause is actually getting processed or has been processed. That means the associated gap has to be processed first in order for the reader to know where the word "where" fits semantically in that sentence. But this is just me thinking out loud.

  • Thank you so much. Another one, would you let me ask? (1) Do you know [“how old” he is __ ]?, (2) “How old” do [you think] [he is __ ]?, in these two interrogatives, the same “how old” is preposed, skipped once in (1); skipped twice in (2). Is there some reasons or is it just the way as is used?
    – Listenever
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 1:22
  • 2
    @Listenever The first example is asking two questions: a direct one "Do you know the guy's age?" and the indirect one "What is the guy's age?" If you knew the guy's age, you could respond by merely saying "Yes", but then you wouldn't be answering the questioner's real question, which is: "What is the guy's age?" Your 2nd example is basically asking a direct question "What is the guy's age in your opinion?" There's related info in CGEL pages 861-5, "3.2 Indirect speech acts", which might help explain why the indirect version might be preferred over the direct one in certain situations.
    – F.E.
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 2:08
  • So “Do you know how old he is?” can imply an indirect question “he is way older than looks.” I’ve got extra jewels in the cup that you gave me to quench my thirst. Rally I appreciate you.
    – Listenever
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 5:22

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