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I don't know precisely why, but the interrogative structure "Is X to do with Y?" sounds weird and not natural English.

In fact, if I transform "Is X to do with Y?" into the related affirmative form I should write "X is to do with Y", which seems ungrammatical because "is to do" has the form "to be + infinitive".

Instead I know the form "to have + infinitive", therefore I conclude that the affirmative form should be "X has to do with Y" and the interrogative form should be "Has X to do with Y?"

Can anybody enlighten me on this problem?

I'm asking because on an earlier question a user changed the question title into the form I mentioned above.

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    I'm more likely to say something like: "Does X have anything to do with Y?" – snailcar Mar 4 '13 at 23:08
  • Or, if I'm wondering if X is so because of Y, I might ask, "Is X due to Y?" – Trish Rempel Mar 4 '13 at 23:24
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    Or, "Is X related to Y?" – Trish Rempel Mar 4 '13 at 23:28
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I don't think it's relevant that OP frames the question around an interrogative construction. Grammatically, it's no different to:

[this] is to do with [that]

...which has tens of millions of (mostly relevant) instances in print. From Macmillan Dictionary:

have (something/anything) to do with
be something/anything/nothing to do with
to be connected with someone or something.

For most purposes, be and have are interchangeable here. Idiomatically, there are certain preferences. For example we very often include anything in interrogative forms based on be...

Is it anything to do with [that]? (11,200 written instances).

...and we often include what in forms based on have...

What has this to do with [that] (134,000 instances).


Note that be to do with is primarily a recent British usage. It's catching on in America, but current "prevalence" values are much lower. That much is certain; what follows is pure speculation...

Looking at early (pre-1970) instances of is nothing to do with in Google Books, you can hardly avoid noticing many are Kenya National Assembly Official Record (Hansard). In 1972 neighbouring Uganda expelled about 60,000 Indians/Pakistanis. Many of them were running successful businesses, and spoke relatively standard English; almost certainly they either influenced or were influenced by the dialectal variants used by politicians in the general region.

About half of the expelled Asians came to the UK. Overall, they were well-received and have thrived in their new home. My guess is mainstream British society adopted the new variant partly because of them, but here's the UK-based New Scientist - 22 Aug 1957...

If it is anything to do with I C I, of course, he will need no spurring.

...to show that it wasn't completely unknown even much earlier, in the ancestral seat of English.


Turning to the "grammaticality" question. The speed at which this variant has caught on means many Americans may rarely have encountered it until relatively recently, so they may find it "strange". But "grammar" really just means "what people say", so the sheer number of citations in recent decades is enough to say this form is already well-established. I've no doubt that in a few more decades it'll be as familiar to Americans as it is to Brits.

  • +1 I note, too, that what seems to be happening is that in BE is to do with is replacing got to do with. – StoneyB Mar 7 '13 at 12:10
  • @StoneyB: I've always thought "got-insertion" was primarily an American habit. BrE: "What has that to do with me?"; AmE: What's Love Got to Do with It. But I guess all Anglophones are honorary Americans these days. – FumbleFingers Mar 7 '13 at 13:49
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    I would have said so, too; but the British Council says otherwise. – StoneyB Mar 7 '13 at 13:58
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"Is X to do with Y" is perfectly grammatical, and reasonably common. For example:

Is this question to do with English Grammar? If so, the tag "grammar" is probably appropriate.

"X is to do with Y" is also valid:

This document is to do with our company's new policy on IT usage.

This inspection is to do with the new health and safety regulations.

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    Given that you're the user who changed the title in question, naturally you'd think it's grammatical. :) Could you perhaps explain why it's grammatical? – Martha Mar 4 '13 at 23:51
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    @Matt: I'm not sure you can justify the "grammaticality" by citing an assuredly grammatical equivalent. But if you can, you'd have to say "to do with" means "relational to", because both forms need to be preceded by "is". But then you get in trouble because it's also valid to have to do with, whereas you can't say have relational to. I agree it's grammatical, of course. I just don't think that's a way of proving the case. To my mind, the proof is that we do say it (and after all, in the final analysis, "grammatical" simply means "what we say"). – FumbleFingers Mar 5 '13 at 0:25
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    According to the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary, "be to do with" is a chiefly British way of saying "have to do with". That might explain why you and FumbleFingers think it's fine, while it sounds somewhat odd to me and, I think, to Martha. – snailcar Mar 5 '13 at 1:39
  • @snailplane: Good point. I'll edit to reflect. – FumbleFingers Mar 5 '13 at 2:13
  • I have to agree with FumbleFingers related to using "do" instead of "is" in these sentences. Again because we are stating a relationship, not a state or identification. I think better wording would be "Does this question have to do with English...", This document has to do with..." and "This inspection has to do with...". – user485 Mar 5 '13 at 3:00
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Here are some Google search results. I found it surprising that the first form is the most common (I'd have thought the second):

"What is that to do with" -> About 323,000,000 results.

"What does that have to do with" -> About 28,000,000 results.

"What has that got to do with" -> About 2,700,000 results.

"What has that to do with" -> About 1,530,000 results.

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    Unfortunately, Google doesn't report result counts. It only reports estimates which can be wildly inaccurate, particularly when the queries contain multiple common words, which is the case here. When I re-run your queries on a real corpus (GloWbE), I get 3, 390, 168, and 56 results respectively. The second form does appear to be the most common, so these results appear to support your intuition. – snailcar Oct 2 '13 at 5:13
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The BBC has recently used "is to do". Seems to be a "Britishism". Maybe a result from an incorrect understanding of the contraction that was previously mentioned- just like some people use "of" instead of "have" (as in "would of"). Here's the BBC link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35119311 "Is it to do with climate change?". Admittedly I find this weird, would prefer a form of "have".

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