Post by Horace LaBadie Post by firstname.lastname@example.org
Is it better to report (1) using (1a) or (1b)?
(1) He asked me, "What's the matter?"
(1a) He asked me what was the matter.
(1b) He asked me what the matter was.
I maintain that (1a) is the better way, for
reasons which I'll keep at bay in this opening post,
so that I can hear what your answers are first. :)
Presumably, he asked what's wrong, rather than what was the matter being
Yes, it's the idiomatic sense of "the matter" that I have
in mind. But It is interesting to contrast it with literal usages
such as the one you have just given. In such usage I believe
"was" needs to come after the phrase with "the matter":
(2) He asked me, "What is the matter being discussed?"
(2a) *? He asked me what was the matter being discussed.
(2b) He asked me what the matter being discussed was.
To let my cat out of its bag, the idiomatic sense of
"the matter" seems to have adjectival value, being equivalent
in meaning to "wrong," as you say, and this seems to make it
exceptional in indirect questions, similar to "a piece of cake":
(3) He said, "The exam was a piece of cake," but I didn't hear
him clearly. I asked him to say again what was a piece of cake.
(4) *? He said, "The exam was a piece of cake," but I didn't hear
him clearly. I asked him to say again what a piece of cake was.
While (4) is perfectly grammatical, it reports that the speaker
asked his interlocutor to define a particular kind of dessert, not
to clarify what he found so easy. Consider also that, although we can
say, "Is anything the matter?", we can't say, *"Is anything the problem?"