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I often hear questions where a phrase marked with は is moved to the end of the sentence:

  1. 今の音は何ですか?
  2. 何ですか、今の音は

I heard the second sentence above in the anime となりの関くん. A student has just made a loud sound in the back of class, and the teacher asks this question out of irritation.

My question is, how is an inverted question like this different from a sentence with basic word order? Does it differ in terms of emphasis?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Rather than emphasis, I think such inverted questions occur only in spoken language, because the asker wants to know 何ですか "What was that?" and just asks straight away. Noticing that he could be asking about any number of things, he specifies, 今の音は.

Such inverted questions are so common that they're less a sign of surprise or "being startled" than properly formed questions are a sign of a calm and collected attitude.

So, 今の音は何ですか? conveys that the teacher is 100% calm and nothing can "rock his world". (That said, the difference is very subtle.)

The meaning, of course, is exactly the same, whether the question is inverted or not.

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