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What is the matter? This asks for the subject

possible word order:

He asked what the matter was

He asked what was the matter

What is the time? This asks for the complement.

possible word order:

He asked what the time was.

and not

He asked what was the time.

Could anybody, please, tell me why the former asks the subject and the latter the complement? Thanks

from Swan's PEU p 253 (7)
Comments  
Hello Inchoateknowledge

I was also surprised by what Michael Swan wrote. I have read many other books on English usage which do not say the same thing.

In other words, What is the matter? should be reported as He asked what the matter was. Similarly, What is the time? should be reported as He asked what the time was.
As far as I know, the word order for a question in reported speech is not the direct question order. There is no S/V inversion, so I agree with Yoong Liat.
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Both versions seem to be correct, including the one with the verb in front of the subject (condemned by Swan), at least according to these writers:

The Phantom of the Opera by Leroux, Gaston - Chapter 12
It asked what was the matter and I saw no reason for keeping our story secret or concealing the place which you filled in my heart . ...


The Ivory Child by Haggard, H. Rider - Chapter 4
asked what was the matter . " Savage here declares that there are two conjurers in the kitchen premises , who have been producing snakes out of his pocket ...


Benita by Haggard, H. Rider - Chapter 12
Clifford asked what was the matter , and received the reply that the place was a tomb , with nothing in it but an accursed dead monk , information at which ...


The Ghost Kings by Haggard, H. Rider - Chapter 20
rubbing their eyes , and asked what was the matter . " This , " said Rachel . " I command you to lift the weight of your malediction ...


The Mysterious Stranger by Twain, Mark - Chapter 2
laughed, and asked what was the matter. I said, "Nothing, only it seemed a strange name for an angel." He asked why. "Because it's-it's-well, ...


Simon the Jester by Locke, William J. - Chapter 20
Ninety-nine men out of a hundred would have asked what was the matter with me. But Campion, who all his life had given, wanted to know what he could co. ...


The Yellow God by Haggard, H. Rider - Chapter 18
asked what was the matter. "Matter, Major!" yelled the indignant Jeekie. "My ma inside this black villain, /that/ the matter. Dirty cannibal got digestion ...

However, this well-documented discussion in another forum confirms the S-V order in indirect questions indicated by Swan, thus I think his prescription should be generally followed:

indirect questions
http://tinyurl.com/qmvww
"What is the time?"

I'm not a native, and, when enquiring about the time, I always say "What time is it", not "What is the time?"

Direct speech: "What time is it?"

Reported speech in the past : He asked what time it was.

Otherwise: He asked: "What time is it?", no shift in tenses because it's not a real reported speech.
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Hi,

There is one thing that Swan says and I can not get my head around:

What is the time? He says it asks for the complement. The time is 16 30 -- 1630 is the complement. OK.

What is the matter? He says it asks for the subject!! -- the matter is that facts do not matter (the nominal that clause not a subject but a complement, again.)
What is the matter? This asks for the subject

I reject this premiss. It doesn't ask for the subject. And (surprise, surprise!) it doesn't really ask for the complement either. It's an idiomatic expression that says "Talk to me about what is bothering you" or "Tell me the problem". The answer is a complete sentence that does not use the word matter at all.

-- What's the matter?
-- I failed my exam.

-- What's the matter?
-- I can't get this key to open the safe.


So the question is how matter could be used in the answer if you had to. I suggest that either form is possible:

The matter is that I failed my exam.
That I failed my exam is the matter.

The matter is that I can't get this key to open the safe.
That I can't get this key to open the safe is the matter.


The first in each pair is the usual order, so I'd say the original question asks for the complement, if pressed to decide. Nonetheless, the ambivalence here is reflected in the use of both forms in indirect speech.

asked what the matter was / asked what was the matter

Given my preference above, of course here I prefer asked what the matter was.

CJ
What is the matter? does not have a statemnt form. Hence What is the matter ? when changed into the indiirect speech the word order remains unchanged. ex. He said to me , "What is the matter?' becomes He asked me what was the matter.

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