Saturday, August 25, 2012

When to use do after who in questions (and when not to).

Recently I read on a language website about how a student was confused about when to use do after who in questions, as someone had told him we can't use do/does/did after who. I don't know who that 'someone' was, but they had obviously got a bit confused themselves. Yes, there are times when we don't use do/does/did after who (and some other question words), but it is really the exception rather than the rule.
Read about using auxiliary do/does/did in questions, and do a couple of exercises.

Remember, there are two types of question:
  • Yes / No questions, also known as closed questions.
  • Question word or wh-word questions, also known as open questions.

Yes / No questions

The verb to be has its own system, based on inverting the subject and the verb, but as it doesn't involve the do auxiliary, we'll not bother with that here. With all other verbs, the basic way to make a question is to invert the subject and auxiliary:
  • She is going to the party - present continuous
    Is she going to the party?
  • He had seen her lately. - present perfect
    Had he seen her lately?
  • She would go again. - modal
    Would she go again
But with present simple and past simple there is no auxiliary in the positive sentence to invert, so we have to add one - do, does or did.
  • They speak Spanish.
    Do they speak Spanish?
  • She likes playing golf
    Does she like playing golf?
  • He got an invitation
    Did he get an invitation?

Wh-word questions

Again we invert the subject and auxiliary, but this time we add a wh-word at the beginning of the sentence.
  • She is making something. - present continuous
    What is she making?
  • He has been somewhere. - present perfect
    Where has he been?
  • He would like to talk to somebody. - modal
    Who would he like to talk to?
And again, as there's no auxiliary in the present simple and past simple positive statements, we have to add one in the question.
  • They want to do something.
    What do they want to do?
  • She likes somebody.
    Who does she like?
  • He saw something moving.
    What did he see moving?


Question formation can cause problems for a lot of students, but there is an easy way to remember what happens - the mnemonic QASI (pronounced like the English word quasi - meaning almost).
  • Q - question word
  • A - auxiliary
  • S - subject
  • I - infinitive
Verb would perhaps be a better description than infinitive, but QASV isn't quite so easy to say.
Now look at this table and see how the word order follows the QASI pattern. This shows the standard question structure for verbs other than be, although as we don't have a question word in Yes/No questions we only have ASI.
AuxiliarySubjectInfinitivethe rest of the sentence
yes / no
simple - Didyougetan invitation?
continuous - Areyougoingto the party?
perfect - Hadheseenher lately?
modal - Wouldshegoagain?
wh-word questions
simpleWhodidyouseeat the party?
perfectWherehaveyouputthe coffee?
Now in all the previous examples, the wh-word referred to the object or an adverbial. But what about when who/what etc refers to the subject?

Wh-word referring to the subject

Now the wh-word simply replaces the subject, so there is no inversion
  • Something is annoying him. - present continuous
    What is annoying him?
  • Somebody has turned out the light. - present perfect
    Who has turned out the light?
  • Somebody would like to talk to you. - modal
    Who would like to talk to you?
And what about present simple and past simple?
  • Somebody loves her.
    Who loves her?
  • Somebody saw you at the party.
    Who saw you at the party?
That sounds just fine; we don't need to add anything, because there is no inversion. So the exception to QASI and the rule about adding do/does/did to simple tense questions, is that when the wh-word refers to the subject, we don't add an auxiliary. In practice this mainly happens with who, what and which. But remember, this is the exception rather than the rule. So now we have a different table.
= subject
AuxiliaryVerbObjectthe rest of the sentence
simpleWho - phonesyouevery day?
What - annoysyoumost?
Which of these - takesyour fancy?
Who - invitedyouto the party?
What - tookyouso long?
Which of them - toldyouthat?
continuousWhoistakinghimto school?
perfectWhathasannoyedhimso much?
modalWhich of thesewouldsuityou best?

To sum up

  • Yes / No questions - invert subject and auxiliary. In simple tenses add the auxiliary do/does/did
  • Wh-questions when the wh-word refers to the object or an adverbial. Use the QASI formula. In simple tenses add the auxiliary do/does/did
  • Wh-questions when the wh-word refers to the subject - simply put the wh-word in normal subject position before the verb or auxiliary. In simple tenses don't add anything

Emphatic do - the exception to the exception.

Sometimes we want to add emphasis, for example if we're getting a bit impatient or annoyed, and we do this by putting extra stress on the auxiliary.
  • Well, who is taking him to school, if not you?
  • So what has annoyed him then?
  • If you don't like that one, which of these would suit you?
But in simple tenses where the wh-word refers to the subject, there is no auxiliary, so we need to add 'emphatic do/did' and stress it.
  • If it's not David, who does phone you every day then?
  • What does annoy you then? Nothing? I don't believe you.
  • Then who did invite you to the party if Mandy didn't?
  • If it wasn't the traffic, what did take you so long?
  • If Peter didn't, which of them did tell you?
You can read more about emphatic do and other auxiliaries at the link below.


Exercise 1 - Make wh-word questions.

EG. Somebody spoke to her.
Who spoke to her?
1. Somebody invited her to dinner
2. He told somebody about his plans
3. They make something themselves.
4. Something makes him happy
5. Something happened to him. (add emphasis)
6. He asked his brother something.
7. Somebody cooks his supper for him.
8. He prefers something.
9. Somebody gave him a black eye.
10. They went somewhere on holiday.
11. He first met her sometime.
12. Somebody likes him a lot more than she's letting on.
13. She takes after somebody.
14. Somewhere suits her best.
15. Some wine goes with eggs. (add emphasis)

Exercise 2 - Change these indirect questions into direct questions. Remember to change the tenses where necessary, and the pronouns. Where it says really, use emphatic do.

She asked him ...
EG. ... who he had spoken to.
Who did you speak to?
1. ... what he wanted for supper.
2. ... how he liked his eggs cooked.
3. ... who had told him about the .
4. ... if he wanted to go for a walk.
5. ... which shirt he liked best.
6. ... which of his brothers had given him the present.
7. ... who had phoned earlier
8. ... whether he wanted go out later.
9. ... why he hadn't told her earlier.
10. ... what the word ubiquitous meant.
11. ... if he had phoned his parents.
12. ... who had really told him about the job, then.
13. .. what had made him so angry at work yesterday.
14. ... if he thought it would rain.
15. ... where he had put the car keys.
16. ... what had really happened to his brother that night.
17. ... when he wanted to eat.
18. ... who had said life was going to be a bed of roses.
19. ... if he had told his parents about the change of plans.
20. ... who really annoys him at work.

Remember with a song.

You can use these song titles to help you remember the rules
  • who/what = object - with auxiliary do
    Who do you love - Bo Diddley, The Doors
    What do you want from me - Pink Floyd
  • who/what = subject - without auxiliary do
    Who loves you - The Four Seasons
    What makes you beautiful - One Direction
See if you can find any more songs whose titles start with who or what. If you do, why not tell us in the Comments below?

What about whom?

There are some rather silly people on the Internet, including some who should know better, who insist that Bo Diddley's song should be called Whom do you love?. Hardly anybody uses whom at the beginning of a question like this, and most of us consider it to be extremely formal, and rather unnatural and out of place in normal conversation (or in a pop song).
The only time you really need to use whom is after a preposition, and you can usually avoid this by putting the preposition to the end. Who did you write to? is much more natural than To whom did you write?, which sounds excessively formal.
You can read more about when to use whom at the link below.


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