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As I know, we normally have to change the word order in indirect questions. Correct my examples below if they are wrong: "Can you tell me where you come from?" "Can you tell me who were late for class?"

Another example which is really confusing to me. Can you help me out with it, please?

Affirmative: "Rock is my favourite type of music"

Normal subject question: "What is your favourite type of music?"

Which is correct from the following:

Indirect question 1: "Can you tell me what is your favourite type of music?" or

Indirect question 2: "Can you tell me what your favourite type of music is?"

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  • 1 and 2 are both fine; just two different word orders. In both cases, the what expression is a subordinate interrogative clause (embedded question) functioning as complement of "tell". The meaning is "Can you tell me the answer to the question 'What is your favourite type of music?'"
    – BillJ
    Jan 30 at 16:43

2 Answers 2

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Your 2 is far more common than your 1, but I wouldn't say 1 was ungrammatical.

What causes this oddity is that the copula ("is/are") is in some sense reversible:

Folk is my favourite type of music.

and

My favourite type of music is folk.

are in some sense the same, though there are pragmatic differences.

Similarly

What is your favourite type of music?

and

Your favourite type of music is what?

are in many ways the same, though again there are pragmatic differences. The first has no particular emphasis, but the second (which is much less common), is marked, and suggests that the question is somehow specially important.

If you embed those questions, you get your two:

Can you tell me what is your favourite type of music?

does not chage the order, because the question word is in subject position, but

Can you tell me what your favourite type of music is?

moves "what" from its non-subject position to the head of the embedded sentence.

I'm not sure why the second is now the more common choice.

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  • 1
    I don't agree that: Can you tell me what is your favorite music? I would say that 1 is non-standard and used by people who don't know and this "mistake" is cropping up more and more in AmE speech, even from jornalists. It's appalling.
    – Lambie
    Jan 30 at 0:03
  • @Colin Fine I'm not sure why you say that your second embedded example has inversion. I don't think it does. (I'm assuming you're referring to subject-auxiliary inversion)
    – BillJ
    Jan 30 at 8:46
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    @BillJ: you're right. I got confused. I've edited it.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 30 at 10:44
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Your first example is a slightly wrong direct question.

It is "What is your favorite type of music?" with an "Can you tell me" falsly dangling in the front.

The second is the correct indirect question, because technically the question is if the person has the capacity to say it. With an answer of yes or no.

It's indirect, because what you are asking, is different from what you want to know.

It's like when you ask your dad "Can you pass the salt?" and he answers "Yes"... it wasn't supposed to be a question, but a request formulated as a question to be nice.

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  • I don't see anything wrong with the first one. The sequence "what is your favourite type of music? is an embedded subordinate interrogative clause functioning as complement of "tell". It means "Can you tell me the answer to the question 'What is your favourite type of music?'" Note that subordinate interrogatives express questions, but do not themselves ask them.
    – BillJ
    Jan 30 at 16:32

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