This is not an English-specific question. In Japanese, you might also ask "何時から何時までですか。" Or "nan ji kare nan ji made desu ka", "From what time to what time?" (from Google)

Sometimes in daily conversation you might hear someone ask "How many people are going in whose car"? Or "Where did you buy what from?". To which the response might be "Six people are going in Bob's car" or "I bought ice cream. I bought it from the shop over there".

This can happen when someone has two questions to ask. The meaning is often perfectly clear to the person being asked the question and they are then able to respond by answering both questions in one or multiple sentences.

So the first thing I want to suggest is that these sentences don't break any natural rules of communication, aside from being a little cumbersome. However, they might not be "formally correct" in the grammar of any given language. Are there any formal rules of grammar which they break?

Personally, have you heard someone ask multiple questions this way before?

Note: There is another way to combine two questions into one sentence, using "and". What I'm talking about is different from asking "How many people are going, and whose car are they going in?" or "What did you buy, and where from"?

  • 1
    This is more of a question for English Language Learners, but simply put, there’s nothing wrong with multiple interrogatives in a sentence. “Who did what to whom where?” is a perfectly fine sentence, most likely one asking (somewhat bewilderedly) for clarification. Jul 18 at 19:35
  • 3
    There's a big literature on multiple Wh-questions.. Enjoy.
    – jlawler
    Jul 18 at 20:22
  • @jlawler Thanks for the link, I see you knew the right keywords to search for!
    – matt_rule
    Jul 19 at 21:05
  • I have now given examples in English and Japanese, this is no longer a language-specific question. Can someone please reopen it?
    – matt_rule
    Jul 19 at 21:13
  • 1
    @matt_rule English Language & Usage, then; it falls between the two (ELL isn’t just for speakers of other languages; it’s for questions that would typically be relevant to learners). Adding examples from other languages doesn’t really change much, because your main question is still whether this type of structure breaks any rules of grammar, which can only be answered in the context of a specific language – which is exactly what makes it about language-specific grammar and usage and therefore off-topic here. Jul 19 at 21:34

Since you're asking on Linguistics SE, I assume you're asking a linguistic question, and not e.g. a writing style question. So such constructions are reasonably common in English, to the point that you can't reasonably say that they are speech errors (people sometimes do just say ungrammatical things because they're tire, or whatever). Not everybody has the same grammar of English (personally, I can't say "We might should go soon", but it is a feature of some US dialects). It is governed by a rule.

The way we understand "formal rule" is not just that there's some internalized rule that a person learned that covers this, but we actually have a theory of what such rules look like and we can actually reduce it to some kind of quasi-mathematical equation. This article is the first item that came up when I googled "multiple wh questions": as you can see, there is a formal theoretical account. Whether or not there is a "rule" depends on what you mean by rule. I think that in most contemporary approaches to syntax and semantics, there isn't much left of the original concept of "rule" which is a language-specific instruction to turn one thing into another. Instead, the tendency is to talk in terms of "well-formed states", so that if A, B and C must be true, then you do whatever is necessary to make A, B and C true. In the broader sense of "rule", you can conceive of a rule as being "some principle that has an effect (on language)", so the sum of thie above paper plus anything relevant from other literature would constitute "the rule". So yes, there is a formal rule allowing and accounting for this construction.

  • Thanks, yes it was a linguistics question. Unfortunately someone couldn't see past the English and closed it, so I've now given examples in English and Japanese. I hope that's enough to unlock it.
    – matt_rule
    Jul 19 at 21:15

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