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Subject and Object Questions

Perfect English Grammar

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Usually, when we ask a question, we want to know about the object of the answer:
  • What did you lose?
  • I lost my purse.
'My purse' is the object of the answer and 'what' is the object of the question. (The subject of the question is 'you'.)

Here's another example:
  • Who did John meet?
  • John met Lucy.
'Lucy' is the object of the answer and 'who' is the object of the question.

When we usually learn about how to make a question, we learn about object questions, because they are the most common type of question. The normal rules that you learn about making questions, such as inverting the question word and the auxiliary verb, or adding 'do', 'does' or 'did', are all used in object questions.

However, sometimes we want to ask a question where the thing we want to know is actually the subject of the answer.

Here's an answer:
  • Lucy kissed John.
We can ask about John, in a normal object question:
  • Who did Lucy kiss?
But we can also ask about Lucy:
  • Who kissed John?
'Who kissed John?' is a subject question. We don't need to use inversion, or add 'did'. Instead, we just take out 'Lucy' from the answer (which is a normal sentence) and add 'who'. We generally make subject questions using 'who' or 'what'.

Let's have a look at some more examples:
  • James dropped the glass.
  • Object question: What did James drop?
  • Subject question: Who dropped the glass?
  • We will read the book.
  • Object question: What will you read?
  • Subject question: Who will read the book?
  • Amanda washed the car.
  • Object question: What did Amanda wash?
  • Subject question: Who washed the car?
  • The students like their new professor.
  • Object question: Who do the students like?
  • Subject question: Who likes the new professor?
  • I'm buying some bread.
  • Object question: What are you buying?
  • Subject question: Who is buying some bread?
Try an exercise about subject and object questions here.