'Why + infinitive' in reported speech?

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JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
Can a direct speech in the form of 'Why + infinitive?' ever be used in reported speech?
For example, can a direct speech as in He asks, "Why bother?" be converted to this?
He asks why bother?
EDIT: The question mark here is a mistake. It should be a full stop:
He asks why bother.
 
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  • JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thanks. Could you think of a grammar rule of sorts that can explain why this is not allowed?
     
    @Keith - Could it possibly be "He asks why they bothered to do X." / "He asks why they were bothering to do X."?
    @JungKim - You will note that there is the question mark at the end of your sentence. The reported version would not usually have a question mark. It would have a full stop.
    You will find examples of the construction you have suggested. Here is one, from a book review:
    "Dan can’t keep his mouth shut, so he asks why bother putting materials and energy into making cars that they knew would be destroyed as surplus?"
    The writer is using the present tense (which is fine) to talk about an event in the book. The "why bother" may have been the words actually used by Dan, but Dan would not have said "they knew would be destroyed as surplus". He may have said "you know will be / are going to be destroyed as surplus". Then we get the question mark at the end, which seems inappropriate to me.
    Then there is the fact that the writer is switching from the present to the past.
    "Dan can't keep his mouth shut, so he asks why they are bothering to put materials and energy into making cars which they know will be destroyed as surplus." - That would seem better to me.
    With the sentence I have (hopefully) improved, could "why they are bothering" be replaced by "why bother"? ("...so he asks why bother")? I think I prefer "why they are bothering", but the "why bother" version now troubles me less than your OP sentence with the question mark at the end.
     
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    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Doesn't all reported direct speech require a capital letter and inverted commas?
    JK, do you think "Why + infinitive" is in some way a special case?

    Edit: Yes, thanks jg.:oops:
     
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    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    @JungKim - You will note that there is the question mark at the end of your sentence. The reported version would not usually have a question mark. It would have a full stop.
    You're right. The question mark was an inadvertent error on my part and I stand corrected.

    You will find examples of the construction you have suggested. Here is one, from a book review:
    "Dan can’t keep his mouth shut, so he asks why bother putting materials and energy into making cars that they knew would be destroyed as surplus?"
    The writer is using the present tense (which is fine) to talk about an event in the book. The "why bother" may have been the words actually used by Dan, but Dan would not have said "they knew would be destroyed as surplus". He may have said "you know will be / are going to be destroyed as surplus". Then we get the question mark at the end, which seems inappropriate to me.
    Then there is the fact that the writer is switching from the present to the past.
    "Dan can't keep his mouth shut, so he asks why they are bothering to put materials and energy into making cars which they know will be destroyed as surplus." - That would seem better to me.
    With the sentence I have (hopefully) improved, could "why they are bothering" be replaced by "why bother"? ("...so he asks why bother")? I think I prefer "why they are bothering", but the "why bother" version now troubles me less than your OP sentence with the question mark at the end.
    Interesting. Sometimes, though, possibly as in the book review, people tend to mix up the direct and indirect speech. I wonder if you could accept the "why + infinitive" form in a pure indirect speech.
     
    I think I was indicating at the end of my previous post that I would not object strongly to the "why bother" in the sentence I gave. I think we would understand "why they are bothering".
    I don't want to explore this direct / indirect speech topic too much in this thread, but just to say that writers sometimes use a form which is "half-way" between direct and indirect speech for particular effects. If you are interested, do a search on "free indirect speech".
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    If it's direct speech you must have a question at the end. Otherwise it is indirect speech (with no inversion needed).
    Compare "I jumped into the taxi. The driver asked where to."
    If we wrote "The driver asked Where to?" it would be direct speech.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I'd like to revisit post #3.

    Assuming that no one objects to the proposition that the "why + infinitive" form is not allowed in a pure indirect speech, is it safe to say that no one is able to come up with a grammar rule that explains why it is not allowed?
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    It's simply the "rule" that direct questions are replaced by indirect ones. E.g:

    "Where are they?" => He asked where they were.
    "Why bother?" => She asked why one should bother.​
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    So I take it that the "why + bare infinitive" form cannot be used as a subordinate clause, except for some informal case where there's a mix-up of direct and indirect speech.
    On the other hand, I think, other forms such as "what/how/where/who/when + to infinitive" can only be used as a subordinate clause as in He asked what to do.
    Am I right?
    Or can these other forms be used as an independent clause?
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    So I take it that the "why + bare infinitive" form cannot be used as a subordinate clause, except for some informal case where there's a mix-up of direct and indirect speech.
    On the other hand, I think, other forms such as "what/how/where/who/when + to infinitive" can only be used as a subordinate clause as in He asked what to do.
    Am I right?
    Or can these other forms be used as an independent clause?
    Indirect "speech" is a form of interpretation rather than quotation. Lots of things have to change, and for some direct utterances there simply is no indirect form. For example, tenses and pronouns may be different between something one person said or asked in the past and how the currect speaker interprets it in the present.

    "Why bother?" is a direct utterance that depends on context. It has no direct converted form. "Bother" here may be an imperative, which of course does not convert directly to declarative form. "Why bother?" might also mean "Why do we bother?" or "Why should we bother?", each with its own indirect form ("He asks why we bother", "He asks why we should bother").

    And "Why bother?" could mean "Why am I to bother?", in which case we might say "He asks why he is to bother" or just "He asks why to bother."
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    If it's an imperative, is it both imperative and interrogative??
    My main point is that "Why bother?" can be taken lots of different ways, and each might have a different indirect form.

    I was thinking of "Why bother?" as possibly a question about an imperative:
    Be there. [Imperative]
    Why? Why be there? [Question about that imperative]
    He asks why be there? [Indirect question about the same imperative] [Seems to work for me]
    It is a little hard to put bother into that model since nobody says "Bother to do this at once!". But isn't commanding someone to do something that is a bother tantamount to commanding them to bother?

    Go to whatever trouble you must to get this done.
    Why go to the trouble? Why bother?
    He asks why go to that trouble. He asks why bother.
    [Does that work?]
    And though we might say something like "Please (to) put a penny in", we would not ask "Why please?".

    Then there's bother as an exclamation:

    Oh, bother!
    Why bother?
    He asks why bother?
    [curiouser and curiouser]
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Bother can be an imperative, but only in the negative: "Don't bother!" If we want to express it in the positive we tend to say, e.g: "I think you should bother more about your homework."

    In my view, "He asks why go to that trouble. He asks why bother" just doesn't work. Either it's direct speech with the punctuation missing, and should be: He asks, "Why go to that trouble?" He asks, "Why bother?". Or if it's intended to be indirect speech it must be rewritten as: He asks why they should go to that trouble, why they should bother".
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Bother can be an imperative, but only in the negative: "Don't bother!"
    Aha!

    Since I would not say "Why don't bother?" but "Why not bother?", I see now that the "bother" in "Why bother?" must be a bare infinitive, not an imperative. In other words, the imperative itself cannot be integrated into a question.

    This means that my "He asks why bother" is really "He asks why to bother" with the "to" missing. (It also can't be subjunctive: "He asks why that he bother.":cross:)

    Come to think of it, if interrogative and imperative are "moods" like indicative (and subjunctive), the only one that subordinates well is the indicative. What we call indirect interrogatives do not invert subject and verb, so despite their "interrogative" meaning, they have to look just like indicative subordinate/relative clauses. Hmm.
    If we want to express it in the positive we tend to say, e.g: "I think you should bother more about your homework."

    In my view, "He asks why go to that trouble. He asks why bother" just doesn't work. Either it's direct speech with the punctuation missing, and should be: He asks, "Why go to that trouble?" He asks, "Why bother?". Or if it's intended to be indirect speech it must be rewritten as: He asks why they should go to that trouble, why they should bother".
    In other words, we might add a "should" as a reasonable interpretation of the interrogative: "Don't bother" -> "You shouldn't bother" -> "Why should I/we bother?" -> "He asks why he/they should bother."

    The infinitive allows us to avoid working out what pronoun to use: "Don't bother" -> "Not to bother" -> "Why not (to) bother?" -> "He asks why not (to) bother." Similarly, "Why (to) bother?" -> "He asks why (to) bother."

    I prefer these infinitives that "represent" imperatives to have the to when they are subordinated, but I do think the to is optional, as in "I know what do: Let's climb up on the roof, and ...."
     
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    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    ... I do think the to is optional, as in "I know what do: Let's climb up on the roof, and ...."
    I don't recognise this as English.

    Let me put it as clearly as I can: I agree with you in seeing "Why bother" as an abbreviated form of "Why should we bother?" in the same way as "Why pay more for car insurance?" is an abbreviation of "Why should we/you pay more..."

    In both cases, the reported speech form is "He asked why he/they/one should..." :tick: This doesn't abbreviate.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I think that the answer to the question in #1 is that Why bother? is a question, which is often described as a rhetorical question.
    Its form cannot be reduced to reported speech, where it has to be padded out (e.g. The rhetorical question Why save money? becomes He asked why we should bother to save money.). This was suggested by Keith in #2.

    It has been suggested that why followed by the bare infinitive often means It's not worth the trouble to ... of I don't think you should ...
    So Why bother? as a statement would become It's not worth bothering (to).
     
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