Question to the subject in English

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The subject question is one of the most interesting types of questions in the English language.

If you understand the logic behind constructing such questions, you will very quickly learn how to use them.

Why do we use Questions to the subject?

The main feature of a question to the subject is that such a question is asked only to the subject.

Remember: The subject in a sentence is the person or thing that is performing the action.

The boy plays football.

In this sentence, the subject is the boy. It is he who performs the action. The boy is playing.

The parents left for work.

In this sentence, the subject is the parents. It is the Parents who take action. The parents left.

The subject can be not only a person but also an animal or an object.

The wind is rustling outside the window.

In this sentence, the subject is the wind. It is the wind that takes action. The wind is making noise.

The lion lies on the grass.

In this sentence, the subject is the lion. The lion takes action. The lion is lying.

The subject ALWAYS answers the question WHO? WHAT?

The infographic shows the role of the subject in a sentence, a guy kicks the soccer ball.
The subject.

How to form Questions to the subject in English?

Since we ask this type of questions to a person or an object that performs an action (man, dog, tree, people, fish, nature, etc.), the main words in such questions are:

  • who
  • what

Who is out there?

Who talks like that?

What is written on your helmet?

If the subject is a person, then we build the question using the word WHO.

If the subject is an animal or object, then we use the word WHAT.

The infographic shows which question words we use in the subject questions.
What and Who in subject questions.

Please note that we do not use the word order inversion. In subject questions, we do not change the word order to interrogative.

The scheme of a question to the subject looks simple and understandable:

Who or What + (auxiliary verb if necessary) + main verb + rest of the sentence if necessary

What was wrong with that man?

Who can confirm you were there?

Who plays games at an engagement party?

Who has no choices left?

Who had access to her camera?

Formation of a question to the subject, examples of using questions to the subject
Question to the subject. Scheme and examples.

Subject questions and Verb Tenses

Let’s take a look at how we form questions to the subject using different Tenses.

Present Simple.

How we form a question to the subject in the Present Simple:

Who or What + Main verb ending with -s + rest of the sentence

Who works for you, by the way?

Who plays the best soccer in the world?

Who knows what really happened?

Attention: When we form a question to the subject in the Present Simple, we must remember that we do not use auxiliary verbs or the question word order. This means that we must add the ending -s to the main verb. Because asking such questions we mean that the verb refers to the third person singular who or what.

Past Simple.

How we form a question to the subject in the Past Simple:

Who or What + Main verb with -ed (or second form of irregular verb) + rest of the sentence

Who walked into the bakery?

Who asked you to be good to me?

Please note that we do not use auxiliary verbs, so we add the ending -ed to the main verb or use the second form if the verb is irregular.

Future Simple.

How we form a question to the subject in Future Simple:

Who or What + will + Main verb + rest of the sentence

Who will benefit from this service?

Who will be next?

What will you tell your wife?

Don’t forget to put the auxiliary will before the main verb. The auxiliary verb will indicates that this is the future.

NOTE: We do not put the auxiliary will in front of the subject. We do not use the question word order in subject questions. We use the auxiliary verb will only to indicate that this question is about the future. Therefore, we put will after the subject and before the main verb.

To be in Present Simple.

Now let’s look at how we form questions to the subject with the verb to be in the Present Simple:

Who or What + is + state or place + rest of the sentence

Who is pressuring you?

Who is there?

Please note that we use the verb to be as is. Because the question to the subject implies that the subject is a person or thing in the singular.

To be in Past Simple.

How we form a question to the subject with the verb to be in the Past Simple:

Who or What + was + state or place + rest of the sentence

Who was your best friend growing up?

Who was your faculty advisor at Stanford?

Who was the guy I talked to?

Please note that we use the verb to be as was. Because by asking a question to the subject, we mean that the subject is a person or object in the singular.

To be in Future Simple.

How we form a question to the subject with the verb to be in the Future Simple:

Who or What + will be + state or place + rest of the sentence

Who will be next?

Who will be the second man in space?

Who will be king in this republic?

Note that we use the verb to be in Future Simple as will be. Remember to use will before be because will indicates the future.

Negative Subject Questions

A question to the subject can be asked not only in a positive but also in a negative form.

To form a negative question to the subject, we need an auxiliary verb with a negative particle not.

We choose the auxiliary verb depending on the tense we are using: Present Simple: does not, Future Simple: will not, etc.

Who or what + auxiliary verb + not + main verb / place / state + rest of the sentence if necessary

Who doesn’t want to be like me?

Who didn’t scare me?

Who hasn’t heard of you?

Remember that when we choose the auxiliary verb, we mean that the subject is a person or thing in the singular. Therefore, for example, we use does not, and not do not. We use is not and not are not etc.

Correct: Who doesn’t like me?
Incorrect: Who don’t like me?

Also, remember that we don’t use question word order. Therefore, we only use auxiliary verbs to indicate the tense of a verb or negation in the sentence. We do not put the auxiliary verb in front of the subject as in a general question.

Scheme of formation of a negative question to a subject, examples of using negative questions to the subject.
Negative questions to the subject

Subject question with a modal verb

We use subject questions not only with ordinary verbs but also with modal verbs.

Who or what + modal verb + verb + rest of the sentence

To form a negative question to the subject with modal verbs, we add the negative not after the modal verb:

Who or what + modal verb (+ not) + verb + rest of the sentence

Who can’t confirm you were there?

Who wouldn’t hire me after that?

Note: We use the same word order as in an ordinary, affirmative sentence, so the modal verb comes after the subject.

Subject question with there is / there are

In question sentences, we use there is and there are to find out if someone or something is somewhere. With the help of there is we also can form a question to the subject.


ATTENTION: We can only use there is. We do not use there are in subject questions. Because by asking a question to the subject, we mean that the subject is someone or something in the singular. For the subject singular, we use is and not are.

The rule for using there is in subject questions.
There is in subject questions.

Now, attention again, please! In order to form a question with there is we have to do one little trick.

To use there is in questions to the subject, we must transform:

there is into is there

The rule of how to change there is for use in subject questions.
There is in subject questions.

The scheme of a question looks like this:

Who or what + is there + place + rest of the sentence

What is there in the room?

Who is there in the house?

infographic shows the formation scheme of questions to the subject with there is
There is in subject questions.

Predicate in Subject Questions

Sometimes we have to make the agreement of the subject and predicate in a sentence. For example in Present Simple.

Therefore, we must always remember that when we use who or what in a question to the subject, we mean that the subject is expressed in the third person singular (he, she, it, was, has, etc).

Therefore, remember that in the Present Simple we add the ending -s to the predicate:

Who plays with my heart?

Who runs faster?

Who sings on the street every day?

In the Present Continuous, the auxiliary verb must be is.

Who is late?

Who is America’s next MasterChef?

Who is a private detective?

In the Past Simple, we use the verb to be as was.

Who was in that house with me?

Who was in it when it exploded?

In the Past Continuous, we also use was.

Who was playing Lucius before me?

Who was talking with you?

In the Present Perfect, the auxiliary verb to have looks like has.

Who has sent you the letter?

Who hasn’t heard of you?

In the Present Simple Passive, we must use the to be as is.

What is lost?

What is said in paragraph 15?

In Past Simple Passive, we use the verb to be as was.

In questions to the subject, we only use there is. We don’t use there are.

Where Who and What are Pluralized

In a question to the subject, we can mean that the adjective is expressed not by one person or object, but by several. In such cases, we can use a plural auxiliary verb: are, were, have, do etc.

  • Who have …
  • Who do …

Who are those we cannot see?

Who are the soldiers?

Who do the job?

What were those words?

Remember that in this case, it should be clear from the context why we mean several people or objects in the question.

If we do not have such a context that indicates the plural, then we use the verb as for the third person singular.

How not to confuse a question to the subject and a question to the object?

We can form subject questions and object questions using who and what. But the scheme of questions to the subject and questions to the object is different:

Let’s take an example:

Example 1.

Tom played with a dog.

Tom is the subject.
Played is action.
Dog is an object.

The question to the subject is:

Who played with the dog?

The question for the object is:

Who was Tom playing with?

How to answer questions to the subject correctly?

We form answers to a question to the subject as well as answers to ordinary questions.

We can use:

  • Short positive or negative answer
  • Full positive or negative answer

A short positive or negative answer is built according to the following scheme:

Subject + auxiliary (not)

Question: Who will help you?
Answer: John will.

Full yes or no answer:

Subject + auxiliary (not) + main verb + rest of the sentence

Question: Who are playing this music?
Answer: Those guys are playing this music.

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