(1) I don't know what's the matter.
(2) I don't know what the matter is. suggests to my ear that you are a little more concerned than in (1)
(3) When she hung up I asked her what the matter was. this is ok but just a bit clumsy
(4) When she hung up I asked her what was the matter.
Which word order would you choose? I found (1) and (3) used in a book.
I've put my reactions into your text, cheshire.
I've ignored in 3 and 4 the fact that it would be hard for you to ask her questions after she had hung up, which is what they both imply.
I believe there are many English teachers who teach only 2, 3 are right.
Thank you very much!
That's very interesting, Cheshire. I think Sally and I disagree with them. Incidentally, Sally was quite right to correct me about talking to her after she had hung up. I was imagining you talking to her on the phone, as opposed to her ringing someone else while you were in the room.
We do disagree with them Thomas! I wonder if these English teachers are native speakers or not?
He wanted to know, "What's the matter?"
1. He wanted to know what the matter was.
2. He wanted to know what was the matter.
In sentence one "the matter" is the subject of the clause, while in sentence two it's the complement. I can accept both constructions. But what happens when both appear in the same text as follows?
The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Chapter 10 - Dreadful Occurrences in Madagascar
All this while, I knew not what was the matter, but rousing immediately from sleep with the noise, I caused the boat to be thrust in, and resolved with three fusees we had on board to land and assist our men.
My nephew, the captain, who was roused by his men seeing such a fire, was very uneasy, not knowing what the matter was, or what danger I was in, especially hearing the guns too, for by this time they began to use their firearms...
Was Defoe using the two constructions interchangeably, or did he make a distinction in meaning? I suppose if the latter, the second "matter" referred to what had been previously identified?
cheshire said:... the second "matter" referred to what had been previously identified?
I agree with your teachers. To me, 1 and 4 might well be found in speech or writing, as an anacoluthon. To me, in All this while, I knew not what was the matter Defoe deliberately switches from the word order of indirect speech to the word order of direct speech for dramatic effect (anacoluthia).I believe there are many English teachers who teach only 2, 3 are right.
Maybe, those sentences can be heard in speech but are they grammatically correct? For example, in every language, we can hear some sentences that are usual in speech but when we consider them better they are not grammatically correct although many people use them.
Why would then many grammar books say that the sentences:
I don't know what the matter is and
When she hung up I asked her what the matter was
are correct if that’s not true?!
Then, grammar books must be wrong?!
In everyday BE it's entirely correct to say either: I don't know what's the matter, or I don't know what the matter is.Your sentences are correct , and so are the grammar books!
The sentences above are not interrogative ones, so the grammatical order of words is :S, V, etc.
e.g. "..the matter is [ S-V]
If you were to take an FCE examination , then you should use this natural order of words, unless you have to ask a question :
"What is/was the matter?"
Answer: "I don`t know what the matter is / was."