Learn English – “I do not know where … is” vs. “I do not know where is …”

grammaticalityrelative-clausessubject-verb-inversionword-order

Which of the following sentences is correct in a formal context? Both? If possible, please also explain why each of these sentences is correct/incorrect.

I do not know where the best place to ask this question is.

I do not know where is the best place to ask this question.

Best Answer

The first one is correct in formal and informal contexts. The second sentence would not be used by a native speaker.

The reason is that there is a difference in the way that English handles wh-words, when they are in the main clause vs. when they are in the embedded clause. The structure also depends on whether the wh-word is the subject or the object in its clause.

In the main clause, we use the basic order: wh-word verb ______.

Where is the best place to ask this question?

This is true when the wh-word is the subject or the object, although you'll notice we use do-support when the wh-word is the object (when the main verb is not is):

  • Who told you that? (who is the subject, no do-support)
  • Who did you tell? (who is the object, use do-support)

When the wh-word is inside of an embedded clause, the verb doesn't move to the front of the clause; only the wh-word moves. For example:

  • I was wondering [who told you]? (corresponds to "who told you?" in main clause)
  • I was wondering [who you told]? (corresponds to "who did you tell?" in main clause)

(In other languages, this pattern is not the same; it is an arbitrary feature of English.)

Since where is the object in this case (and usually is in general), it follows the second pattern, so: "I do not know where ... is".