Let's say Person A is crying. I want to ask Person B that why Person A is crying.

  1. Why do you think he is crying?
  2. Why do you think is he crying?

Which one is the correct way of asking this question?

If I ask it the first way could Person B can say "I don't think he is crying". Note the question.

  • 1
    This question should be asked on our sister site dedicated to people learning English as a foreign language: English Language Learners. The short answer is option 2 is completely unidiomatic: no native speaker would ever phrase it that way. Your qualms about how Person B might (irrelevantly) respond are unfounded: you asked why, not whether. The interrogative why demands a reason as a response. – Dan Bron Apr 18 '16 at 12:18
  • "No, I don't think he is crying" would be the answer to "Do you think he is crying?" If you remove the "No", however, it could be a possible answer to the question about knowing why he's crying. – MorganFR Apr 18 '16 at 12:19
  • @MorganFR I edited the "No" part. I inform you because otherwise your comment would have looked meaningless. – ozgur Apr 18 '16 at 12:31
  • @DanBron Even though there is "Why" in the sentence, the answer is still valid. You are asking Why PersonB thinks that Person A is crying. And he can say "I think he is crying because I see moist in his eyes". Could I made it clear? – ozgur Apr 18 '16 at 12:33
  • @ozgur Yes, but pragmatics (e.g. Grisham's maxims) preclude such a response, except for someone who was deliberately being obtuse (usually as a silly joke). In other words: option 1 is how native speakers actually ask this question. But anyway, whatever the merits or demerits of option 1, the question is moot, because option 2 is impossible (anyone hearing you use it would consider it a solecism or gaffe, and such use would likely mark you as a non-native speaker). – Dan Bron Apr 18 '16 at 12:37

Ah, the ambiguous "why" of motivation: my old enemy, we meet again!

My job often requires of me that I ask people what their hypotheses are for third parties' behaviors. I have to be very, very, very careful how I phrase such questions, because, as you have noticed, the question "Why do you think he is crying?" can be parsed two very different ways:

"What do you think his reason is for crying?"


"What are your reasons for thinking he is crying?"

The second of these two questions – especially when phrased using the word "why", which is idiomatically used in rhetorical questions to express anger – can be construed as an insult. If you ask "why do you think he is crying?" in the right (or rather wrong) tone of voice and context, it will be construed as your having said, "What's kind of idiot are you that you mistakenly think that he is crying?"

As someone who has to ask both the "what are your reasons for thinking this" and the "what do you think his reasons are" questions on a regular basis, and make sure that I keep them distinct and don't antagonize anyone I ask them of, I'll tell you: there is no simple easy grammatical way to do so.

The way I do it is by explaining myself in detail using lots of words, and/or by pursuing the question by entirely other words:

How did you know he was crying?

What did you see that let you know he was crying?

Did you see him crying?


What reason did he have for crying?

Did he say why he was crying?

I wonder why he was crying.

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  • "Why do you think he is crying?" can be unambiguous in a context where the fact of his crying has already been established. – nnnnnn May 21 '16 at 5:15

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