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1) 'What did he say?'
2) 'What he said?'

I am much confused about these terms please anybody explain which one is correct and which I should use?

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    What he said is used to mean (I agree with) what he said, mostly in informal written English, to express agreement with previous post or comment. One could even write What he said?, but then it would mean that one is questioning whether one agrees with the previous post, or it could be an invitation for others to agree with it. But these are advanced and specialized uses which you probably don't have to worry about--although you will see What he said written by native English speakers all over the Internet. – user6951 May 16 '15 at 14:33
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What did he say?

forms a perfect question.

Natives may not opt for What he said? because it lacks the auxiliary verb 'did'.

To form a perfect question with 'what' here, you need to put a verb (auxiliary).

See there, remove a question mark, and it becomes a sentence

That is what he said.

This is the reason of adding an auxiliary verb.


If you are from an Asian country (especially India), it's okay to form a question like that. Asians understand this as a question. But don't practice it if you want to be good at the language. In India, I keep on correcting others whenever I get a chance! :)

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    I like the additional Asian Eng clarification. I'd never have thought of that, as a BrE. – Tetsujin May 16 '15 at 15:14
  • I'm an Asian, too. I don't think it's really typical that way. I suspect that "He said what?" is more common among Asians. – Damkerng T. May 21 '15 at 8:15
  • @DamkerngT., sorry, I thought broader. Added! :) – Maulik V May 21 '15 at 8:16
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What did he say? is a question. It asks for clarification of what he said if you have not heard clearly.

What he said is a statement. It refers the listener to the previous statement that he made.
Adding a question mark does not, in itself, make it a question

  • What he said isn't a statement. A statement is a complete sentence, which requires a verb, and there isn't one there - it's just a noun phrase – FumbleFingers May 16 '15 at 11:58
  • What Chenmunka said. @FumbleFingers – user6951 May 16 '15 at 14:25
  • @pazzo: Okay, smartass! :) But I'd be very careful about encouraging non-native speakers to think that usage is "grammatical". It's a very recent idiomatic usage that's effectively shorthand for I agree with what X said. And let's not forget that I could have posted a response saying What Chenmunka said? (with a question mark) - disregarding pedantic issues about "standard, well-formed sentences", I assume you'd have interpreted that as a question meaning What exactly did he say?, or What specific aspect of what he said are you expressing support for? – FumbleFingers May 16 '15 at 17:05
  • Yeah, basically. Idon't have a problem informing learners of idiomatic expressions that they will encounter. – user6951 May 16 '15 at 17:10
  • @pazzo: Ah, right. I hadn't seen your earlier post. Which is a good comment, since it does alert readers to the fact that these are advanced and specialized uses. By implication, usages that might be idiomatic and/or ungrammatical and/or uncommon - certainly when I first joined SO it took me quite a while to get used to What [previous poster] said as a "standalone statement". At first it seemed more than a trifle weird to me, but I guess that's inevitable with many newly-emerging idiomatic usages. – FumbleFingers May 16 '15 at 17:22
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When asking a question about something that happened in the past, we use did with the bare infinitive form of the verb:

What did you say?
When did it happen?
Why did the cost increase?
Where did the rain fall?

But with who we use the past tense of the verb:

Who took the book from the table?

With whom we again use "did":

Whom did he ask for directions?

[Many native speakers no longer say 'whom' (objective case) but use 'who' instead: "Who did he ask for directions?"]

An alternative, very informal way to ask such questions, a way which often expresses incredulity, or surprise, or impatience, or simply a desire to have your conversation partner confirm or repeat the statement, is as follows, with tonal emphasis on the final word:

You said what?

It happened when?

The cost increased why?

The rain fell where?

  • I have my doubts about associating past tense with who like that. It's perfectly natural to ask/say things like "Who says I'm worried? I'm absolutely confident!" (in that specific example it's probably a rhetorical question, but it wouldn't have to be). Come to that, there's (equally rhetorical) "Who's your daddy?" – FumbleFingers May 16 '15 at 17:31
  • But I'm not "associating past tense" with who. My answer begins "When asking a question about something that happened in the past...." Surely you wouldn't ask "Who takes the book from the table when I wasn't looking?* – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 17 '15 at 10:01
  • Well, a teacher could certainly turn around from the blackboard and ask the disruptive class Who did that? or Who threw that?. I just think the issue here is the more general use of "do-support" to frame questions, and that present/past tense isn't really part of it. But I don't know how do-support relates to the "tonal emphasis" that distinguishes the standard What do you want? from the emphatic Okay - you say you don't want that. What do you want? – FumbleFingers May 17 '15 at 13:41
  • Your examples (who did..., who threw) support my position. You're choosing the past tense of the verb. Throw->threw. Do->did. (In your example, "did" isn't a supporting/helper/auxiliary verb.) – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 17 '15 at 13:48
  • My hypothetical teacher could also ask Who knows the answer? - I've given several examples, using present and past tense, with or without do-support. I'd also point out that there are perfectly ordinary contexts where What did he say? and What does he say? are to all intents and purposes completely equivalent. I just don't think present/past tense is directly relevant to OP's question. – FumbleFingers May 17 '15 at 14:41

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