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I'm doing a translation from Portuguese to English, and I've found a phrase that is a simple question,

"Does it exist what I'm looking for?" but in Google just returns 1 hit, so it doesn't exist. Seems that the right construction is "Does what I'm looking for exist?"

However, all main free translators (Google Translate, Bing Translate and ChatGPT) pretend that undertand this wrong question.

Right questions in English

  1. "Does it exist?"
  2. "What am I looking for?"
  3. "Did he do his homework?"
  4. "Did he do it?"

The strange stuff is that "Did you do what I asked you yesterday?" is right and follows the same logic.

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    Even though it is not idiomatic, it is understandable. Online translator will attempt to translate whatever you give the, including ungrammatical English. They make (according to their algorithms) the best guess at the meaning, and translate that. It's fairly easy to guess that this is a disloction, with "it" referring forward to the interrogative content clause
    – James K
    May 26, 2023 at 5:01

2 Answers 2

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Does it exist what I'm looking for?

it is a pronoun that refers back to something that you have already mentioned. Your sentence doesn't work because it refers forward to something, and that's not allowed. Instead, you have to use the thing itself, instead of it:

Does what I'm looking for exist?

In some languages, it is possible, even conventional, to have a pronoun that refers forwards, but not in English.


Note that, if you have already defined what you are looking for, that syntax is correct, and "what I'm looking for" serves only as a reminder of what you are talking about. For example, in a conversation:

A; I'm looking for a screw with an anti-clockwise thread
B: ....... some long and complicated sentence
A: Does it exist? What I'm looking for?

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    Great answer! Clear explanation because "it" is not possible. May 26, 2023 at 1:07
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The problem in your sentence becomes more clear if you remove the inversion:

  • (It) does exist [what I'm looking for]
  • (What I'm looking for) does exist
  • (It) does exist
  • (I) am looking for what
  • (He) did do [his homework]
  • (He) did do [it]

Note: Subjects in (parentheses) and objects in [square brackets].

Looking up exist in the dictionary, you'll see that it takes no object, even though you've (apparently) tried to provide one. Do does take an object, at least in the sense you're using (which isn't modal).

The sentence could also be interpreted as right dislocation but without proper punctuation. Right dislocation usually happens in speech, when the speaker uses a pronoun/noun/noun phrase (in this case, "it"), realizes it's unclear, and ends the sentence with a clarifying pronoun/noun/noun phrase. There should be some sort of punctuation (usually a comma, but end punctuation is often possible in more informal writing) before that clarifying part:

See also my ELU answer about left dislocation.

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