tell me what's the matter / what the matter is

francocaqui

Senior Member
Español
Alright people I have been living in the US for a while and I have heard this kind of sentence that actually gets me confused.

I know the correct way of saying it is "Come on, do you want to tell me what the matter is?"
but recently I have heard "Come on, don't you want to tell me what's the matter?"
It came from a native English speaker.
What is the explanation?
thank you
 
  • aloofsocialite

    Senior Member
    English - USA (California)
    Hi francocaqui,

    Actually, the way you heard it is the way I would say it. Although the difference between "do you want" and "don't you want" might just be situational ("don't you want" is more of an exhortation, "do you want" is a question).

    However the rest of it is almost a set phrase, "...tell me what's the matter?"
    "...what the matter is?" sounds odd to me.

    un saludo
     

    gengo

    Senior Member
    American English
    I agree with Aloof, but it's hard to explain why, since the normal grammatical structure would put the verb at the end. I guess it's just a convention to say it as "tell me what's the matter." The other way is certainly correct, and it doesn't really sound odd to me, but I too would usually say it as "what's."

    Sometimes learning a language requires us not to question too much, and just absorb instead.
     

    francocaqui

    Senior Member
    Español
    Hi francocaqui,

    Actually, the way you heard it is the way I would say it. Although the difference between "do you want" and "don't you want" might just be situational ("don't you want" is more of an exhortation, "do you want" is a question).

    However the rest of it is almost a set phrase, "...tell me what's the matter?"
    "...what the matter is?" sounds odd to me.

    un saludo
    Well yes my bad, i shouldn't have changed "do you want" and "don't you want"... my question is about the "what's the matter". I mean that is like a question and what I heard is not a question at all. I mean the whole thing is a question but the statement inside it is not. Like saying "Tell me who the murderer is" and 'Tell me who's the murderer" ... Tell me what the matter is, and Tell me what's the matter.
     

    francocaqui

    Senior Member
    Español
    I absorb it and I appreciate your help. SO my question is: Can I do it with everything? like I said before, can I say "tell me who's the murderer" ? or it is just acceptable with this what's the matter thing.
     

    gengo

    Senior Member
    American English
    I absorb it and I appreciate your help. SO my question is: Can I do it with everything? like I said before, can I say "tell me who's the murderer" ? or it is just acceptable with this what's the matter thing.
    Buena pregunta. No quiero decirte que puedes o no puedes hacerlo en todas las situaciones, pero yo diría "tell me who the murderer is," y la otra versión no me suena muy culta, aunque creo que hay gente que lo diría así.
     

    francocaqui

    Senior Member
    Español
    That is only correct if you add a question mark, in which case it becomes a direct question. With an indirect question, the normal rule is to put the verb at the end.
    but how about without the question mark? or without the comma.
    I know that I heard "Tell me what's the matter" without a pause. Is it correct?
     

    gengo

    Senior Member
    American English
    "Tell me who's the murderer," punctuated like that, is also correct.
    It depends on how you define correct. It is incorrect according to the basic rule for forming indirect questions, which is that "In indirect questions, the subject comes before the verb." Therefore, the correct form is "Tell me who the murderer is," with "the murderer" being the subject and "is" the verb.

    As I said above, the way you have it (who's) sounds uneducated to me, although I'm sure there are many native speakers who use that form.

    Consider the following. I'm sure you wouldn't say any of the ones marked with an X, which are the direct question forms.

    I don’t know whose bag it is. :tick:
    I don’t know whose bag is it. :cross:

    I cannot understand how anyone could forget such a huge bag. :tick:
    I cannot understand how could anyone forget such a huge bag. :cross:

    I am not sure whether I should take it to the lost property office. :tick:
    I am not sure whether should I take it to the lost property office. :cross:
     

    k-in-sc

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    It depends on how you define correct. It is incorrect according to the basic rule for forming indirect questions, which is that "In indirect questions, the subject comes before the verb." Therefore, the correct form is "Tell me who the murderer is," with "the murderer" being the subject and "is" the verb.

    As I said above, the way you have it (who's) sounds uneducated to me, although I'm sure there are many native speakers who use that form.

    Consider the following. I'm sure you wouldn't say any of the ones marked with an X, which are the direct question forms.

    I don’t know whose bag it is. :tick:
    I don’t know whose bag is it. :cross:

    I cannot understand how anyone could forget such a huge bag. :tick:
    I cannot understand how could anyone forget such a huge bag. :cross:

    I am not sure whether I should take it to the lost property office. :tick:
    I am not sure whether should I take it to the lost property office. :cross:
    Agree, but to me, "tell me who's the murderer," "tell me what's the matter," "tell me what's the best restaurant" are all acceptable. How are they different from your examples?
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Agree, but to me, "tell me who's the murderer," "tell me what's the matter," "tell me what's the best restaurant" are all acceptable. How are they different from your examples?
    The rule for indirect questions is that (1) the questioned part (e.g. "what" or "whose bag") must come first, and (2) the subject comes before its verb. "Tell me what is the best restaurant" and "Tell me what the best restaurant is" both follow the rule, but they have different subjects.

    In "Tell me what is good about that restaurant", the subject of "is" is "what". A possible answer might be "The service is good."

    Similarly, in "Tell me which is the best restaurant", the subject of "is" is "which", and a possible answer might be "The cafeteria here on the corner is the best restaurant."

    And in "Tell me what is the best restaurant", the subject of "is" is "what", with the same possible answer as for the "which" sentence.

    But in "Tell me what the best restaurant is", the subject of "is" is "the best restaurant", and a possible answer might be "The best restaurant is the cafeteria here on the corner", but other possible answers with this word order, that is with "the best restaurant" as subject, are "The best restaurant is whichever one provides the best service", "The best restaurant is worth discussing, but not as important as where to find potable water", and even "The best restaurant is closed on Friday, that's what."

    These other types of answers are, granted, a little far fetched, but the "what" sentence with the same word order as the "which" sentence makes it just a little bit clearer that the answer is meant to be a specific restaurant, as for the "which" sentence.

    In fact, "I don't know whose bag is it" is a valid statement too, but it does not mean quite the same thing as "I don't whose bag it is." What do we mean by "it"?
     
    Last edited:

    Wandering JJ

    Senior Member
    British English
    In structure, 'the matter' is acting as an adjective in the phrase: "What's the matter?" just as you would ask: "What's wrong?" E.g. "What's the matter with your car?" I recognise that "matter" is eqivalent to "trouble" or "problem", i.e. a substantive.

    Just as you would say: "Do you want to tell me what's wrong?" and not: *"Do you want to tell me what wrong is?", so you say: "Do you want to tell me what's the matter?"

    In my book, the answer to: Do you want to tell me what the matter is?" would be something like: "Mainly organic with a small percentage of inorganic stuff."
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    In structure, 'the matter' is acting as an adjective in the phrase: "What's the matter?" just as you would ask: "What's wrong?" E.g. "What's the matter with your car?" I recognise that "matter" is eqivalent to "trouble" or "problem", i.e. a substantive.

    Just as you would say: "Do you want to tell me what's wrong?" and not: *"Do you want to tell me what wrong is?", so you say: "Do you want to tell me what's the matter?"

    In my book, the answer to: Do you want to tell me what the matter is?" would be something like: "Mainly organic with a small percentage of inorganic stuff."
    Sería poco usual, pero puede decirse también "The matter with your car is that it won't start" (= "What is wrong with your car is that it won't start").

    En este ejemplo, el autor Daniel Defoe hace que el protagonista diga en una frase "I knew not what was the matter" y luego "My nephew, [...] not knowing what the matter was, or what danger I was in, [...]." A mí me parece que el autor demuestra bastante pericia en el uso de estas construcciones. El protagonista dice "what was the matter" cuando no tiene la menor idea qué paso, y "what the matter was" cuando ya lo sabe. Y además, junto con "what danger I was in" (= "el peligro en el que estaba yo"), "what the matter was" va mejor que "what was the matter".
     

    gengo

    Senior Member
    American English
    Agree, but to me, "tell me who's the murderer," "tell me what's the matter," "tell me what's the best restaurant" are all acceptable. How are they different from your examples?
    I can't really explain why, but the second one sounds fine, while the first and third don't sound right to me.
     

    TT011

    Member
    English - US
    It´s because in the second example, what grammatically substitues for the object form ¨that which.¨ In spanish, there is no such usage of what, so, ¨that which,¨ as ¨lo que,¨¨¡ is always used: Dìme lo que te pena.

    In the first and third examples, who and what are subjects of the clause; what substitues for which or which one. So, in these cases, we prefer to hear these sentences in the uncontracted indirect question form outlined above: tell me who the murderer is¨ and ¨tell me what the best restaurant is¨.
     
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