Can I ask:

  1. 'What your name is?'

instead of,

  1. 'What is your name?'

Is #1 grammatically correct?

  • Agreed. But I answered it anyway, darn me. Dec 3 '14 at 17:12
  • 4
    "what your name is" is not a question phrase. It could be used like "I was wondering what your name is".
    – user3169
    Dec 3 '14 at 18:52
  • 2
    You can, however, say "May I ask what your name is?" This is a slightly more formal expression than What is your name.
    – Adam
    Dec 3 '14 at 22:44

We cannot say:

  • What your name is?

Let's see why. Maybe if we don't hear what somebody said, we can use an echo question:

  • Your name is what?

Another name for this type of question is an in situ question. We use the word what to show which word we didn't hear, or which word we don't know. This is a question, but it uses the same word order as a normal sentence:

  • Your name is Bob.

We usually don't make questions like this. We usually move the wh- word to the front of the sentence when we make a question:

  • What blah blah blah blah?
  • Who blah blah blah blah?
  • Where blah blah blah blah?

If the wh- word needs to move to the front of the question, then we also need to change the order of some other words. We change the subject and the auxiliary verb. Let's look at the in situ question again to see what the subject and the auxiliary verb are:

  • Your name is XXXX?

The auxiliary verb here is is. The verb BE is always an auxiliary verb, even when it is the only verb. In normal, canonical, sentences the subject is the noun phrase before the auxiliary. Here the subject is your name.

If we want to make the question with what at the beginning of the question, then we need to invert, to change round, the subject and the auxiliary like this:

  • What [is] [your name]?
  • What is your name?

If we do not invert the subject and the auxiliary, the sentence is ungrammatical:

  • *What your name is? (wrong).

Note that the order of the phrases in the sentence is:

  • What (complement), is (verb), your name (subject)

Hope this is helpful!

  • The verb "to be" can serve as an auxiliary verb, but it doesn't in "Your name is Bob". There, it's just an ordinary verb. A verb is only auxiliary when it "helps" another verb in the sentence by indicating something about modality, tense, voice, aspect, etc. For example, in "Your name will be Bob", "will" is an auxiliary verb and "be" is the main verb.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Dec 5 '14 at 8:09
  • @BenKovitz That's a pretty mid-twentieth century view there ;) Modern grammars such as the CaGEL and the best of the others view auxiliaries as a class of words defined by syntactic properties, not semantic ones. Although I know some writers still stick to a semantic description, it seems hard to justify when looking at the syntactic facts. Here's a couple of posts where I've laid out the arguments about why BE is an auxiliary NICE ... Dec 5 '14 at 15:55
  • @BenKovitz ... and the end end of this post too. Would like to know your thoughts ... ? Dec 5 '14 at 15:56
  • I also understand auxiliary verbs to be defined by their syntactic properties, such as their helping another verb, called the main verb. With the traditional (and still ordinary) definition of auxiliary verb, it's very easy to explain the main rules of English, like "In a question or a negation, verbs other than be need an auxiliary verb, but be doesn't." Redefining auxiliary so that a separate main verb isn't needed might or might not serve a general theory of linguistics, but I think it causes useless confusion for people just trying to learn English.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Dec 5 '14 at 19:11
  • @BenKovitz Au contraire, imo, it makes life much easier. For starters, you need a special case of "helping" for your definition of aux. And it needs to be different from "going to" etc. Also, think about how to explain where to put "never" in a normal sentence. You'll need three or four rules plus exceptions. We only need one rule with no exceptions! Dec 7 '14 at 14:00

I don't think it's grammatically correct, because I have never seen anybody to ask someone's name by saying like this. What is your name?

In my opinion, it's breaking grammar rule of interrogative sentences, because we have to put verb 'to be' (is, am, are) after the interrogative words (What, Who, Where, How, etc.)


No matter what tense is in question, the form of English question is always the same:


(does          +  she  + work)

Question words come at the beginning and the DO NOT change the form of the question or its word order.

When there is a verb BE which usually consists of one word, then we move it to the place of auxiliary verb and the form then looks


(is  + she ) OK/fine/nice/happy/...

So, "what your name is" is incorrect because its form is "question word + noun + main verb"

To respect the rule you have to ask

what + is + your + name

Now, the construction "what your name is" exists and we use it in the indirect question. For example,

Can you tell me...  
I wonder...  
May I know...  
I would like to know...  

*...what your name is*?

What your name is? is ungrammatical. You must say What is your name?

The reason you cannot say What your name is? is because that word order makes the listener hear what as a relative pronoun. A listener hears What your name is? not as a question, but as a fragment of a sentence like this one:

I know what your name is.

In this sentence, the word what functions as a relative pronoun: it makes what your name is into the object of know. The interrogative pronouns what, who, whom, whose, what, where, and when can also function as relative pronouns. The word order tells the listener which role the interrogative/relative pronoun is playing.

Here are some examples to illustrate how the word order changes (or stays the same) when you switch between declarative statement, relative clause, and question:

  1. Your name is Jamius. / I know what your name is. / What is your name?

  2. Terry is ready now. / I see who is ready now. / Who is ready now?

In line 1, the word order reverses to form a question, because what stands for a subject-complement or object. In line 2, the word order is the same in all three sentences because who stands for the subject.

  1. Whose name is Jamius?

In line 3, the question's word order is the same as the declarative sentence, since Whose name corresponds to the subject of the declarative sentence.

There are some other important things to know about English questions, like what to do with auxiliary verbs, the need to add an auxiliary verb (usually do) when the verb is anything other than be, and the fact that you can use the word order of a declarative sentence to make a question express surprise or emphasis (for example, Your name is WHAT??). But the above explains why What your name is? doesn't work as a question in English.

  • But in the usual canonical question version of "You punched who?", The subject will still come before the verb 'punched'! :) "Who did you punch" Dec 5 '14 at 16:30
  • @Araucaria Punch is not the verb be. I tried to indicate in the last paragraph that verbs other than be require an auxiliary when made into questions, without complicating the answer so much it would overwhelm a beginner. I'd add a link to a similar answer that explains how to use those verbs in questions. Do you know of one?
    – Ben Kovitz
    Dec 5 '14 at 18:37
  • "English declarative statements normally put the subject before the verb. For example, in 'Your name is Jamius', the subject is 'your name' and the verb is 'is'. English questions normally put the subject after the verb (except as explained below)." I think that could mislead quite a bit ... :) You might want to tweak it a bit. [Of course, there is a simpler explanation but it involves a principled use of the term aux ...] :D Dec 7 '14 at 14:03
  • @Araucaria Thanks. I just made a small tweak. But now I'm thinking that my overall attempt to address "when the normal word order reverses in a question and when it doesn't" has drowned out the main point. Rethinking…
    – Ben Kovitz
    Dec 7 '14 at 19:53
  • @Araucaria OK, I just rewrote nearly all of it, focusing as narrowly as I could on the original question. It's still longer and more jargon-laden than I'd like, though. :(
    – Ben Kovitz
    Dec 7 '14 at 20:46

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