Trying to determine the function of the interrogative pronoun "qué" in the sentence :

¿por qué está enfermo?

Stanford parsers says it is the "nominal modifier" of the adjective(?)/noun "enfermo". Freeling pretends it is the "sn" of "Por", (couldn't find the meaning of "sn")

I also thaught about considering the whole group Por qué as being an "interrogative adverb", and its function as being the "root" of the sentence ¿por qué está enfermo? or as being the "adverbial modifier" of enfermo

Can a passionate grammarian help out ? Regards


1 Answer 1


I think "por qué" can be parsed as an interrogative adverb, especially when the answer is introduced by "porque":

  • Está enfermo porque no se vacunó.

Alternatively, "qué" in "por qué" can be considered an interrogative pronoun functioning as the object to the preposition "por" and substituting for the cause (noun or infinitive) accounting for a certain situation.

  • Está enfermo por no vacunarse / por falta de vacunación.

According to DLE, "por qué" is said to be an adverb phrase ("locución adverbial"), but I find the term poor as it does not make any reference to its interrogative value, let alone to the possibility of breaking it down into two components.

  • 2
    Technically, it's called an "adverb phrase" ("locución adverbial"). Maybe you can improve your answer by adding DLE as source.
    – Charo
    Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 21:30
  • @Charo Thank you. I will, but I find the term vague.
    – Gustavson
    Commented Feb 16, 2020 at 23:13

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