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I know the following sentence is correct:

  1. I have to wait for I don't know how long.

If we shift "for long" part like this (see #2), it will be incorrect. Right?

  1. I have to wait for how long I don't know.

I think that sentence #2 is incorrect.

While analyzing the correctness of sentence #1, it's said that its constituents are moved out of their natural position. And when they are placed in their natural positions, the sentence will look like the following:

  1. I don't know how long I have to wait for.

So far it's good. But I have always known that when constituents are moved they are moved entirely, not in part. For example consider the following sentence:

  1. He must play the match.

"He" is the NP, Auxiliary verb is "must", and VP is "play the match". So if we move the VP to the head of the sentence, we have to move entirely, like sentence #5, not like sentence #6:

  1. Play the match, he must.

  2. * Play, he must the match. (INCORRECT)

QUESTIONS:

  • A. How sentence #1 is correct?

  • B. If sentence #2 is incorrect?

  • C. If sentence #1 is the modified form of sentence #3, how to analyze it? How the constituents of sentence #3 is moved? When I analyze it myself I see not the entire constituents are moved, rather a part of it is moved. So got confused.

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  • Is this from actual, written English or is it transcribed from a conversation? It's very conversational. – Catija May 8 '15 at 15:24
  • @Catija I have written those sentences :-) Actually I have seen similar sentences earlier. So I have asked. I think all sentences except sentence #2 and sentence #6 is correct. – Man_From_India May 8 '15 at 15:26
  • @F.E. For sentence #1 the complement of the verb "wait" is "I don't know how long" and in subordinate clause the complement of "know" is "how long". But generally I have seen wh-word heads these kind of subordinate clause. That is actually the confusion. And no idea why sentence #2 is incorrect :-( – Man_From_India May 8 '15 at 17:23
  • @F.E.Thanks, this way it's good :-) and what about sentence #2? :-O – Man_From_India May 8 '15 at 17:41
  • @F.E. Ahh I thought sentence #2 is wrong. But as Catja mentioned, it sounds odd. – Man_From_India May 8 '15 at 17:44
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TITLE: How to analyze this sentence - "I have to wait for I don't know how long."

I know the following sentence is correct:

  1. I have to wait for I don't know how long.

If we shift "for long" part like this (see #2), it will be incorrect. Right?

  1. I have to wait for how long I don't know.

I think that sentence #2 is incorrect.

While analyzing the correctness of sentence #1, it's said that its constituents are moved out of their natural position. And when they are placed in their natural positions, the sentence will look like the following:

  1. I don't know how long I have to wait for.

So far it's good. But I have always known that when constituents are moved they are moved entirely, not in part.

It seems that you might be thinking that all three examples are three versions of the same basic sentence. Let us first see if that is true by first parsing example #3, and then later we'll compare its parse to parses of examples #1 and of #2.


Example #3: A parse of it could be:

    1. I don't know [ [how long]i I have to wait (for) __ i ].

Notice that the word "for" is optional in this case. And there is a gap in the subordinate clause that is co-indexed with the phrase "how long". The phrase "how long" has been fronted in front of its clause, and where the normal order for that clause would be "I have to wait (for) [how long]", roughly speaking.

To understand how to interpret #3, consider the interrogative main clause:

  • 3.b. [How long]i do I have to wait (for) __ i ? <-- (a main clause)

which could be embedded as a subordinate interrogative clause:

  • 3.c. I don't know [ how long I have to wait (for) ]. <-- (same as OP's #3)

An interpretation for #3.c (and the OP's #3) is: I don't know the answer to the question "How long do I have to wait (for)?"

The embedded question is "How long I have to wait (for)?", and it is the complement for the verb "know". That is, the expression "how long" is merely the fronted element of that embedded question. Notice that the embedded question is minus the auxiliary verb "do" that was used in the main clause version #3.b.

The whole embedded question (i.e. the subordinate interrogative clause) could be fronted:

  • 3.d. [ How long I have to wait (for) ] I don't know.

These last two versions (#3.c and #3.d), they both have an embedded question (a subordinate interrogative clause) as the complement for the verb "know", and the lexical verb "know" is the so-called main verb of the sentence.


Example #1: A parse of it could be:

  • 1.b. I have m[ to wait l[ for k[ I don't know j [how long] j ]k ]l ]m . <-- (same as OP's #1)

As we see in #1.b (and OP's #1), the head verb of the main clause is the verb "have", and so, it will appear that your example #1 has a different structure than your example #3 which has the head verb "know".


Example #2: A parse of it could be:

  • 2.b. I have m[ to wait l[ for k[ j [how long] j I don't know ]k ]l ]m . <-- (same as OP's #2)

As we see in #2.b (and OP's #2), the head verb of the main clause is the verb "have", and so, it will appear that your example #2 has a different structure than your example #3 which has the head verb "know".

It seems that example #2 might be somewhat similar to example #1, in that they seem to have somewhat similar "for" preposition phrases (PPs). The surface difference seems to be that, for example #2, the PP's complement has an element preposed; that is, the element "how long" was fronted.

But it probably depends on what the speaker was trying to say in #2 and #3, as to what would be an appropriate parse or interpretation. And also, the context would probably be needed.


For both examples #1 and #2: The verb "wait" can take as a complement various different types of categories, it can take an infinitival clause, PP, etc.:

  • I have to wait [for Tom to steal a bus].

  • I have to wait [for five o'clock].

  • I have to wait [for when Tom shows up].


CONCLUSION:

  • Examples #1 and #2 have different structures from that of example #3. That is, #1 and #2 are not versions of #3.

  • Examples #1 and #2 seem to perhaps be versions of each other, where one has an element preposed (w.r.t. to the structure of the PP's complement); that is, within that PP's complement of example #2, the element "how long" was fronted.

  • Examples #1 and #2 sound rather informal, and seem to be something that would be found (acceptable?) in speech or narrative fiction. Though, #2 might be okay. (caveat: I haven't looked too deeply into this.)

  • There might be possibilities where example #1 (and maybe #2) might be seen as having a structure that is somewhat similar to something like "I have to wait for who knows how long" and other structures. (caveat: I haven't looked too deeply into this either.)


ASIDE: As to the sentence:

    1. I don't know [ I have to wait [for [how long]] ].

Example #4 is probably not acceptable for standard English. It seems that the example is supposed to involve a subordinate interrogative clause, but the interrogative phrase was not fronted within that subordinate interrogative clause as it would have been expected. And so, it appears to be unacceptable.

That example #4 ("I don't know I have to wait for how long") might be found in informal speech, perhaps due to the speaker thinking at the same time as they are speaking. But in edited prose, or "edited" speech, it would probably be "I don't know how long I have to wait", which is your original #3 example.

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  • "How long I had to wait for!" versus "How long did I have to wait for?" – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 19 '15 at 11:29
  • I think that maybe I don't know how is a modifier of long in (1). But I can't find any analysis to back this up. – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 19 '15 at 11:41
  • @Araucaria For an exclamation type of parse of this stuff, then perhaps maybe something like: "[ I don't know how long ] I have to wait!", where the preposed stuff is stressed like the preposed stuff in a typical exclamative clause. But this version doesn't seem to work very well with "for" (e.g. with "for" stranded at the end of sentence), imo. But if the preposed stuff was in situ (at the end), then as a possible subordinate exclamation, it is probably unclear; though, some generative grammars might attempt that. It might make a good question in itself: An exclamation parse of #1-4. :) – F.E. May 19 '15 at 16:17
  • @Araucaria Oh, some of this exclamation stuff is discussed in McCawley's SPE. It might give you some ideas on how to possibly tackle this issue. Though, it is old stuff and his framework had not been fully worked out. – F.E. May 19 '15 at 16:21
  • Perhaps there's some related info in H&P CGEL, page 984, [49], with its two examples: [i] "He made some mistakes, though I don't know how many. and [ii] "He made I don't know how many mistakes". In [i], "how many" is a reduced interrogative clause, and it means "how many mistakes he made". In [ii] "how many mistakes" is not an interrogative clause, and [ii] means "I don't know how many mistakes he made", and the complement of "made" is a object NP with "mistakes" as head, and "I don't know" is modifier of "how". – F.E. Jun 16 '15 at 0:31
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I would argue that the best wording of this sentence is:

I don't know how long I have to wait.

The original sentence and the second sentence are fine but they feel (to me) like they're a bit off.

This is how I think they make more sense:

  1. I have to wait for I don't know how long.

This makes sense if you think about an exact time:

I have to wait for 30 minutes.

So, if you see it this way, you can see that they've replaced "30 minutes" with the indefinite, "I don't know how long". So, the actual clause is "I have to wait for" followed by an amount. I'd still argue that my recommendation above is a better grammatical option.

The reason I say it's conversational in the comments on the question is that it seems like someone started to say a definite number and then gave up estimating the amount of time and just said they weren't sure how long. This would likely only occur in spoken English, as in written, they'd just rephrase the sentence as they went:

John: "How long do you have to wait to get your prescription?"

Mary: "I have to wait for.... um... I don't know how long[!]."

Now, as to your rephrasing:

  1. I have to wait for how long I don't know.

This is actually fine... assuming you give it a bit more punctuation:

I have to wait. For how long, I don't know.

So, as in the conversation above, it could read something like this:

John: "Do you have to wait for your prescription or can you pick it up right away?"

Mary: "I have to wait. For how long, I don't know."

Now, for sentence 3...

  1. I don't know how long I have to wait for.

This runs into the "don't end a sentence in a preposition rule" that can sometimes be ignored. Here, the preposition is completely unnecessary, as this particular sentence is complete without it, so it should be dropped... and if you do so, you get the recommended sentence from the very beginning.

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  • Thank you for your answer. But I have some doubts. In my sentence #2 I considered it to be a complete sentence. And no punctuation mark there. So that means that sentence is incorrect. Any grammatical reason please? And I want to know how sentence #1 in my question is derived? Or any analysis is okay. – Man_From_India May 8 '15 at 15:49
  • Sorry, I'm a native AmE speaker, so I'm going by what is correct based on my personal knowledge of the language... this means that I don't always know why something is correct or not. #2 may be a complete sentence but it sounds wrong without punctuation. It's mostly a word-order issue. You can't just rearrange sentences willy-nilly and keep the grammatical structure. I told you how sentence 1 is derived... I think. If you have a specific question about it, be more specific. – Catija May 8 '15 at 15:54
  • Yes about sentence #1 I have one question. Generally "how long" part comes at the head of the clause, not at the end. But here in this case it's different. – Man_From_India May 8 '15 at 15:57
  • Because (unless it's a standalone phrase) "I don't know" should be followed by what you don't know. "I don't know how old she is"... "I don't know how long I've been here".... "I don't know how long I have to wait"... One doesn't generally end a longer sentence with "I don't know". – Catija May 8 '15 at 16:01
  • +1 for the comparison with "I have to wait for 30 minutes." That's pretty much the whole thing. Also consider "I don't know for how long I have to wait". – DCShannon May 8 '15 at 21:26

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