depends + WH-clause

From Michael Palmer on Facebook this morning:

Terry, it depends where you work.

(where I’d usually have depends on, or maybe upon). Historically, this is transitivizing P-drop; the transitive argument structure isn’t in OED2 (1959), and at the time MWDEU (p. 329) remarked:

Many commentators point out that in speech this construction can be followed by a clause with no on or upon intervening, as in “It all depends how many times you’ve seen it” or “It all depend whether it rains.” We have no evidence of these conversational patterns in ordinary prose.

That was then, this is now, and examples of depends + WH-clause are all over the place in “ordinary prose”, in fact in educated prose, like Palmer’s above (trust me on Palmer’s erudition and writing experience).

Many, many millions of ghits. A few examples:

It depends what you mean by “succeed” (link)

It depends what the definition of rape is (link)

Is Apple the Most Admired Company? It depends who you ask (link)

Is Marijuana Addictive? It Depends How You Define Addiction (link)

Like N.J.? It depends where you live (link)

I suspect that speakers under 50 or 60 can’t imagine what the objection could be to such ordinary examples as those above. Yet 50 years ago the construction was under the radar (OED) or seen as confined to speech rather than writing (MWDEU).

Like other transitivizing P-drops, this one has not only the virtue of brevity (on or upon is logically unnecessary, since the relationship between verb and object is inherent in depends) but also the virtue of iconic closeness between verb and object (using a direct rather than an oblique object). You might find the P grammatically necessary — as I’m inclined to do — but that doesn’t mean the newer variant is senseless or stupid. And that’s a good thing, since it seems to be well established in respectable places.


One Response to “depends + WH-clause”

  1. Another transitive depend « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky's Blog A blog mostly about language « depends + WH-clause […]

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