A question word can be used before a to-infinitive to express an indirect question about what should be done. (cited from here)

Does this sentence mean that "question word + to-infinitive" can only be used as object of a verb? Can the structure be used as subject of a verb, subject complement, object of a proposition, appositive? If so, please give me some examples.

  • I did a trivial edit for a neater look. Hope you don't mind.
    – M.A.R.
    Feb 15, 2015 at 17:52

1 Answer 1


How to answer your question most effectively is the task I face.

As you see, this sort of construction can act as the subject of a sentence. In fact, such clauses (the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language calls them infinitival interrogatives) can play all the same roles as ordinary nouns and noun phrases:

SUBJECT: How to use infinitival interrogatives is the question you’re asking.
APPOSITIVE: This question, how to use infinitival interrogatives, is fairly easy to answer.
OBJECT COMPLEMENT: I will make my topic how to use infinitival interrogatives.
SUBJECT COMPLEMENT: This is how to use infinitival interrogatives.
COMPLEMENT OF ADJECTIVE: The following examples should make it pretty obvious how to use infinitival interrogatives.
DIRECT OBJECT: Let me show you how to use infinitival interrogatives.
INDIRECT OBJECT: I am going to give how to use infinitival interrogatives a brief treatment.
OBJECT OF PREPOSITION: What I’ve said about how to use infinitival interrogatives has been pretty predictable.
ATTRIBUTIVE: I’ve tried to make my how to use infinitival interrogatives post comprehensive.
GENITIVE/DETERMINER: How to use infinitival interrogatives’ answer is "Just about any way you use a noun".

  • +1 for a (moderately! :) successful attempt in the last example. Apparently there's a Playstation game called How To Survive, in which context it's actually perfectly reasonable to write The meatiest mode on offer though is How To Survive’s story-driven campaign. Feb 15, 2015 at 15:02
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Yeah, but I'd regard that as cheating, since How To Survive is a proper noun there, like How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, not a real interrogative. And my last example is actually a mention, not a use. I've rewritten it. Feb 15, 2015 at 15:05
  • Now that really is a successful final example! There doesn't seem to be anything like it in Google Books, but I could buy into "Have you stopped beating your wife's implicit accusation is that you did beat your wife, regardless of whether you still do". I wouldn't like to say whether it would be "better" if the question mark itself were included before the genitive 's. Feb 15, 2015 at 15:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .