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My question is about the -wh question words usage in a negative question (in bold below).

  • Why he doesn't open the lights?
  • Why doesn't he open the lights?

Is there a difference in meaning? If not which one is grammatically correct? I have searched "why he doesn't" and "why doesn't he" on Google and both came up with equal amount of results. Which one I should use to simply ask the reason of a negative action?

When I read the questions above I feel like there is a difference. In the first one, I just ask the reason. Why? I don't expect anything from him and I don't wonder about any motives. I simply ask the reason. Why? Reason can be as simple as "because he is lazy".

When I read the second sentence, it feels like I am annoyed because he doesn't open the lights and I expect him to open the lights.

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When asking a question in English, the question is commonly constructed with a form of "do" with another verb in the infinitive, and the order is usually conjugation of "do" (or, if negative, a contraction of the appropriate form of "do" with "not"), subject, infinitive verb. This is true whether the question is positive or negative. Therefore, your second sentence is correct. The first sentence would sound odd to a native speaker.

Your search may have turned up "why he doesn't" because that phrase can occur in sentences that aren't questions, such as "I don't know why he doesn't like fish."

  • How about if we use it as subject like, "what he doesn't know is ..." or "what doesn't he know is ..." – Greffy May 9 '16 at 1:51
  • In that case, the subject (of the clause, i.e. "he") comes first because it's not a question. "What he doesn't know is..." is correct. – Andy Schweig May 9 '16 at 2:09
  • Awesome, thank you. It has been eating my brain since morning. – Greffy May 9 '16 at 2:20

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