Word order of interrogative phrases

Content questions are questions that cannot be answered with a ‎simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ This parameter considers the relative word order of the interrogative phrase (IP) within a content question. IPs mark questions through the use of question words, such as question pronouns, question adverbs, question adjectives, and question verbs. To determine the basic word order of the IP, neutral content questions should be considered in which the IP appears in its default position.[1] If the IP is split up, the position of the question word should be considered, rather than that of the entire phrase.[2]

The question word may not necessarily be the first element in the IP.[3] Furthermore, this parameter does not consider the relationship between the word order of content questions and that of underlying declarative sentences, beyond the positions of the IP.


InitIP: The word order of interrogative phrases is obligatorily sentence-initial.

FinalIP: The word order of interrogative phrases is obligatorily sentence-final.

MixIP: The word order of interrogative phrases is obligatorily sentence-initial for some questions words and obligatorily sentence-final for other question words.

InS: Interrogative phrases display in situ word order; that is, the IP appears in the same position in a question as would its equivalent phrase in the full-sentence answer to the question.[4]

AdIP: Interrogative phrases directly attach to a specific part of the sentence.[5]

A language may display more than one type simultaneously. If, for example, in a VSO language that maintains VSO word order in its interrogative phrases, the IP always follows the verb, the language can be said to display the features of both InitIP[6] and AdIP. The data should be examined to determine which type in fact describes the language; if no independent rule can be determined, the value AdIP should be discarded in favor of the other value. [7]


[1] There are specific cases in which the IP may not appear in its standard position, such as echo questions and focus. These exceptions should not be considered for the purposes of this parameter.

[2] Therefore, both With whom did you come here? and Who did you come here with? are considered to display sentence-initial word order.

[3] For example, the question word may be preceded by a preposition, noun, etc.

[4] For an example of an in situ question in English, consider the following set of sentences: My mother baked bread. Who baked bread? but My mother baked what? (This example is used for illustrative purposes only. Although English can display in situ structure in questions, it is not the neutral word order and is limited to specific circumstances, such as echo questions, quiz questions, and questions with multiple question words.)

[5] For example, the IP may directly precede or follow the verb.

[6] If the verb and the question word (in this order) always appear in sentence -initial position, regardless of which part of the sentence is the subject of the question, the verb and the question together form the IP, which is thus sentence-initial.

[7] If independent rules can be found, both values should be listed, separated by an ampersand (&). For example, the value InitIP&AdIP describes a language in which the IP appears in sentence-initial position in neutral sentences, but not in non-neutral sentences, though still obligatorily attaching to the verb. If two values are listed, the details should be specified in the commentary.