For instance:

Object moving:

  1. Who do you think that John saw t? (correct)
  2. *Who do you wonder that John saw t? (incorrect)

Subject moving:

  1. Who do you think t saw John? (correct)
  2. *Who do you wonder t saw John? (incorrect)

Adjunct moving:

  1. Why do you think that I left t? (correct)
  2. *Why do you wonder that I left t? (incorrect)

1 Answer 1


Wonder takes an embedded interrogative complement with its own internal trace:

You wonder who John saw t.
You wonder who t saw John.
You wonder why I left t.

When you front that wh- you're asking it to do double duty, in both an external interrogative and the embedded interrogative: in effect it's standing for itself rather than for the trace!

It's the interrogative role of the wh- complement which prohibits this movement. Note that this pair sustains the movement, because the original wh- clause is deployed not as an interrogative but as a pronominal:

I know who saw John. ⇒ okWho do you know saw John?

But this pair doesn't, because the original wh- clause is interrogative:

I'd like to know who saw John. ⇏ Who would you like to know saw John?

Some grammarians distinguish these two uses of the wh- clause as 'embedded questions' and 'free' or 'fused relatives'. I don't, because the internal structure of the wh- clause is identical; but the difference in the external syntactic roles justifies a distinction at that level.

  • Thank you! In addition, are there other verbs that also act like 'wonder'? Is there any way we can identify them?
    – PolkaDot
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 6:23
  • In 'I wonder if she ate' , there doesn't seem to be an embedded interrogative complement but the phrase makes sense. Is there some logic to this exception? @StoneyB
    – PolkaDot
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 6:34
  • 1
    @ToInfinityAndBeyond See my addition. The if in I wonder if she ate has the force of whether. Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 9:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.