I've got caught up in a discussion about this particular sentence from new season of The Walking Dead on non-English forum. No one seems to know why are appears after you.

My guess is that it's dependent clause (this is why I'm adding such tag), but I'm not sure because it's the first time I'm reading about it. People on the forum mentioned:

  • Spoken English
  • Silly Americans

So, my question: Why is are appears after you and not before as many people on the forum expected?


1 Answer 1


We invert the verb (or auxiliary) and subject in a direct question:

I am Colin.

Who am I?

They want a meal.

What do they want?

But when the question is embedded in another clause, the inversion does not happen:

You know who I am.

I will ask what they want.

This is absolutely standard in English. (For some speakers this is the only possible form, but for some speakers sentences like I will ask what do they want are also grammatical).

If you want to know why, that is not a kind of question that can usually be answered; but for part of the answer, note that English likes to keep the verb in second position in a clause.

  • 2
    I said "the verb (or auxiliary)". I did not feel it necessary to point out the detail that in Modern English normal verbs do not invert with their subjects and require an auxiliary as stunt-man.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 11:37
  • 1
    @Araucaria, The formulation, "We invert the verb and the subject in a direct question?" is relatively recent and possibly came about through the influence of Spanish. It is simply tacking a question mark onto the end of an ordinary statement. The real 'English' version would be, "Do we invert the verb and the subject in a direct question?" and that follows the rule. Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 11:37
  • 2
    Ah. I missed the import of the first sentence of @Araucaria's comment. You are right: in a canonical (or traditional) direct question. Not that it affects the part of my answer which bears directly on the question.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 11:39
  • 1
    @ColinFine Yes, agreed. Like the stuntman, am going to nick that for my classes. Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 11:41
  • 1
    @Araucaria - That's simply another aspect of the evolution of the language. At one time it would have been grammatically acceptable to ask, "Invert we the verb and the subject in a direct question?" Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 11:44

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