1 I would like to ask you what is the difference in meaning between CAT and DOG.

2 I would like to ask you what the difference in meaning between CAT and DOG is.

3 I would like to ask you what the difference in meaning is between CAT and DOG.

I think that 2 is correct, 1 is not correct but used 3 is wrong and not used. Do you agree?

  • Why do you think #3 is wrong? You can find lots of similar examples in Google Books.
    – stangdon
    Feb 21, 2023 at 18:06
  • Is it a solid enough argument to refer to Google Books? Do you think that all three are correct?
    – user1425
    Feb 21, 2023 at 18:12
  • 1
    1 is wrong and often people make that mistake. They put the question form in a sentence with a relative clause. What is the difference = question form.
    – Lambie
    Feb 21, 2023 at 18:15
  • Exactly, but isn't it that kind of mistake that even natives make?
    – user1425
    Feb 21, 2023 at 18:21
  • 1
    But evading a problem is not solving it in the case of the intent to understand how something works in terms of grammar. I am not asking this question because I can't recast it, I want to know the right solution to the problem as it's undoubtful that those sentences are possible.
    – user1425
    Feb 21, 2023 at 18:39

1 Answer 1


"What" corresponds to the complement (the difference is something). In an indirect question, "what" is fronted, but the subject and verb are unchanged, producing "ask what the difference is". So 1 is wrong. The movable adverbial "between cat and dog" can go before or after the verb. So both 2 and 3 are right.

  • 1
    I rather think that 3 is an example of heavy-element extraposition, analogous to I want to ask who that man was that you spent so much time with yesterday.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 21, 2023 at 21:28

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