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Why does "that depends on what's your goal for life" sound less proper than "that depends on what your goal for life is"?

This is one of the few times in English when it sounds better to have the verb as the last word as the sentence. Outside of this example, the frozen wedding statement "I thee wed", and simple sentences with intransitive verbs like "I love", English doesn't end a sentence with a verb.

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    It's an indirect question, so the standard word order is SV. Only specific structures allow SV inversion in English, and an indirect question isn't one of them.
    – fev
    Jun 28, 2023 at 16:05
  • Well, ending with a verb is OK, but never use a preposition to end a sentence with.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 28, 2023 at 16:06
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    What is your goal for life? She wants to know what your goal for life is.
    – Lambie
    Jun 28, 2023 at 16:14
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    I thee wed is hopelessly archaic, and I love isn't an idiomatic utterance either, but it's perfectly okay for English sentences to end with a verb: I think, therefore I am. The dog barked. I said it’s time to go. The girls walked and talked but did not sleep. My mother likes to drink before she eats. Jun 28, 2023 at 17:16
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    @HotLicks I've got t-shirts older than that joke ... Jun 28, 2023 at 22:26

1 Answer 1

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The difference between those sentences is the subject-auxiliary order of "your goal for life" (subject) and "is" (auxiliary verb).

In the first, you have an inverted subject and auxiliary verb, which means it's in question format, but that sentence requires a noun phrase there as a complement for the preposition "on", not a question, so it's bad grammar.

In the second, you have normal subject-verb word order, so "what your goal for life is" is a noun clause, which forms the complement to "on", which is good grammar.

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  • "What your goal for life is" is, semantically, a question. It's also, syntactically, an interrogative clause. It isn't a noun phrase. The issue is that main clause interrogatives use subject-auxiliary inversion, whereas subordinate ones don't. Jun 28, 2023 at 22:19
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. It's not a question in any sense. "Interrogative" is an unfortunate name. There is no interrogation happening, say, in, "I meant what I said." The phrase "what I said" is a noun phrase acting as direct object of "meant". I know exactly what it is because I said it. I'm not asking anything. "wh-" pronouns are used in interrogatives, but their main function is to represent something not mentioned yet -- they're effectively pronouns without antedecents, which is why they're so useful as question words.
    – gotube
    Jun 28, 2023 at 23:01
  • No, you've got that squiffy. In "I meant what I said", the string "what I said" is a noun phrase. In "It depends what I said", the string "what I said" is an interrogative clause. They have a superficially similar surface form but their structure is entirely different. You can replace the latter with another interrogative such as *whether ...", but you can't the former. The term "interrogative" derives from the Latin meaning 'relating to questions' not from the modern English verb to 'interrogate. It's the standard way to differentiate between the construction and the semantics. Jun 28, 2023 at 23:52
  • I''ve noticed that I didn't address the first bot of your comment--> "It's not a question in any sense". It's what we call, in the trade, an answer-oriented question. The OP's example means something like ' It depends on the answer to the question "What is your goal?" ' Jun 29, 2023 at 15:48

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