"Tell me who she is."

"Tell me who your boyfriend is."

We usually reverse the order, so it becomes like that.

But I wonder whether "tell me who is the real man" also works because "tell me who the real man is" sounds like we have already known the real man and I am just asking about his name.

If my friend and I are going to arm-wrestle, and I say:

"Let's see who is the real man."

Is that correct?

  • You can say that to emphasize "the real man", but as far as grammar is concerned, it is incorrect, and you should place the auxiliary verb at the end. Mar 12, 2016 at 7:53
  • it is all in the style. The sentence ending with the preposition is somewhat more stylish/emphasizing.
    – Maulik V
    Mar 12, 2016 at 7:58
  • 8
    But none of them end with prepositions.
    – user230
    Mar 12, 2016 at 9:59
  • Somewhat related : ell.stackexchange.com/questions/36623/…
    – Færd
    Mar 22, 2016 at 18:18

6 Answers 6


Both structures are correct. And, more importantly, they are both understandable. The impact of the sentence (its implication) will, in this case, be more strongly affected by verbal emphasis when speaking, or by punctuation and context when writing, than by the sentence structure changes suggested.

Both structures are a subordinate clause, beginning with "who".

"An important aspect of wh-clauses," notes Geoffrey Leech, "is that they require the wh-element to be placed at the beginning of the clause, even if this means changing the normal order of subject, verb, object and so on" (A Glossary of English Grammar, 2010).

from here: wh-clause

Neither is a true interrogatory, in that the beginning "Let's see" sets up the emotion of the sentence to be declaratory. Because of this, I would likely not punctuate either form with a question mark at the end. I would use a period to terminate, or an exclamation point, as that would give us a sentence more commonly understood by a reader.

For a discussion of how one can vary traditional English usage, and still be understood, you might find Yoda Grammar to be of interest. It is quite a bit more extreme an example, but still may be useful.


"Let's see who is the real man."

In informal speech, this is very common (especially with shortened "who's" - probably much more than the inverted form), and it is unlikely that someone would correct you.

However, strictly speaking, this is not a question, so the order recersal is inappropriate; the gramatically corect form is "... who the real man is". If you were to use this sentence in formal writing (other than quoting infomal speech), it would probably be marked as incorrect.

  • 2
    I have never heard a native speaker, even in informal speech, say "Let's see who is the real mean" (or anything similar) in a situation like this, unless they were, for example, putting on a faux-Russian accent and making the mistake purposefully, for effect.
    – Jonah
    Mar 21, 2016 at 4:41
  • Try googling "let's see who's". It's all over the place. I've edited to note the shortened form. Mar 21, 2016 at 6:26
  • 3
    Yes, you do often hear things like "Let's see who's coming" (as in, to a party), or, take some google results: "Let's see who's behind the mask," "let's see who's dumb," etc. I still maintain you would never hear the sentence Let's see who is the real man uttered by a native speaker except in jest. I think it's the combination of the predicate nominative and full form (who is) that makes it sound so awkward.
    – Jonah
    Mar 21, 2016 at 6:35
  • I have to note that laugh's answer brings up an excellent observation: that of "who is" versus "who's". I think that "who's the real man" would be common enough in real life, especially given the emotionally laden pointedness of the statement. You don't want an essay when you are making a challenge. Still, I can imagine someone using "who is the real man" here. I would think "who the real man is" would be more common than "who is", but "who is" would still make the point.
    – Mark G B
    Mar 21, 2016 at 20:43


No, it's not. Because embedded questions (those using interrogatives like 'who') are noun clauses, they follow the structure of a statement and not a question. So grammatically you can't say, "let's see who is the real man."


"Let's see what time it is" doesn't imply anything like 'we know the time but we want to see the digits.' Actually when you say "let's see what time it is" what I hear is "Let's see the answer to the question, 'what time is it?'" Like this example when you say, "let's see who the real man is" what I hear is "let's see the answer to the question, 'who is the real man?'". It doesn't imply anything but a simple noun clause which is originally a question transformed and then squeezed into a sentence. 😉

It really depends on how you say it though! Ofcourse you can confidently say, "let's see who the real man is" and then smile smugly and even point to yourself while saying it which means I'm the real man. In this case your body language and tone determined your intended meaning not the sentence itself.

A few examples of embedded questions with 'who the real man is':

I don't know who the real man is.

Could you tell me who the real man is?

I'm not sure who the real man is.

I wonder who the real man is.

We need to find out who the real man is.

So I recommend saying "let's see who the real man is" in a neutral or curious tone (and not fake BTW) if you don't want to imply anything to your friend before arm-wrestling. ☺


The word order in the reported question or a clause with who is usually Subject + Verb. When who in the clause is followed by the verb to be and it is the subject of the sentence, the sentence looks like the following :

Who is happy?- I don't know who (subject ) is happy. Compare: I don't know who came.

It was Thomas Jefferson, I think, who (subject )was the third president of the United States.

If there's a subject in the question it is placed in front of the verb.

Who are they?– I don't know who they are. Who is that man? – I don't know who tnat man is.

According to M.Swan , "when we report questions with who, what or which + to be + object, the verb be can come before or after the object."

Who is the champion? – Tell me who the champion is.Tell me who is the champion (Informal).

Both sentences are correct.

Let's see who the real man is. Let's see who's the real man.(Informal).

  • I am for the first variant. But I respect M.Swan 's opinion.
    – V.V.
    Aug 28, 2016 at 14:46

If a clause beginning with a question word (who, what, etc.) is not an actual question (but still expresses an implied inquiry), you can use the standard S-V-O order instead of V-S-O. You only have to use V-S-O order if your sentence ends in a question mark.

I'm wondering who that guy is that goes to the park all the time.

I'm wondering who is that guy that goes to the park all the time.

Who is that guy that goes to the park all the time?

Who that guy is that goes to the park all the time? (Sounds funny.)

If who, what, etc. is part of a clause that functions as the subject of a sentence then this doesn't apply (because this is not an implied inquiry anymore).

What you decide won't affect my opinion.

Who you think about doesn't matter.

  • I'm inclined to think that the first example is also a bit funny to me. "I'm wondering who that guy is that goes to the park all the time.", hm, is that correct not to link the pronoun that directly to the noun it's referring to (guy)? Mar 17, 2016 at 13:57
  • As far as I can tell, the fourth example doesn't just sound funny, it is gramatically incorrect. When forming a complete interrogative sentence (question) the order should definitely be reversed as in the 3rd example. Mar 19, 2016 at 8:52

I will start my answer by first scrutinizing how embedded questions are formed:

  • When will the match start?

This is an interrogative sentence. The answer is, say, at x. x can be anything, any time.

So the answer to this question is:

  • The match will start at x.

Now see how in interrogative sentence when fills the gap:

  • The match will start ____
  • The match will start when

Now in question the interrogative word - when is fronted, and subject-auxiliary is inverted -

  • When will the match start?

Let's now form the embedded question:

  • I don't know x.
  • I don't know the match will start ____
  • I don't know the match will start when.
  • I don't know when the match will start.

Now let's focus on a similar sentence as the one OP quoted:

  • (i) I don't know X
  • (ii) X is your name. (Question: What is your name?) [Notice no subject-auxiliary in version in question]
  • (iii) Your name is X (Question: What is your name?) [Notice here the subject-auxiliary inversion took place]

Both (ii) and (iii) basically mean the same thing, but structurally they are different. In (ii) X is the subject, but in (iii) X is in predicative complement.

Now we will form the embedded question based on sentence (ii)

  • I don't know ___ is your name.
  • I don't know what is your name.

Now we will form the embedded question based on sentence (iii)

  • I don't know your name is ___.
  • I don't know your name is what.
  • I don't know what your name is.

So in OP's original sentence both the sentences are correct, and mean the same thing.

[N.B - Based on various corpus and google book search, I think Let's see who the real man is. is more common]

  • Sorry, I'm a bit too dense for the last set of examples. And shouldn't it be "based on sentence (ii)" and "(iii)" instead of (ii) and (ii)? Mar 22, 2016 at 5:29
  • @CowperKettle Yes it's (ii) and (iii), it was a mistake, I edited it. Mar 22, 2016 at 16:51

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