Subject and Object Questions in English

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Advanced English Grammar Course

Subject and Object in English

First, let’s review the difference between a subject and an object.

The subject of a sentence is the person or thing that performs the action:

  • We want some fruit juice.
  • Karen likes Fred.
  • Smoking causes cancer.
  • Daniel made a sandwich.
  • The earthquake damaged my house.
  • Jennifer lied to Sam.

The object of a sentence is the person or thing that is acted upon, or receives the action:

  • We want some fruit juice.
  • Karen likes Fred.
  • Smoking causes cancer.
  • Daniel made a sandwich.
  • The earthquake damaged my house.
  • Jennifer lied to Sam.

Object questions in English

Most questions in English are object questions – we want to know about the receiver of the action. These questions follow the QUASM formula: Question word – Auxiliary verbSubject – Main verb.

For questions in the simple present, the auxiliary verbs are do and does: 

  • What do you want to drink?
    We want some fruit juice.
  • Who does Karen like?
    Karen likes Fred.
  • What does smoking cause?
    Smoking causes cancer.

For questions in the simple past, the auxiliary verb is did:

  • What did Daniel make?
    Daniel made a sandwich.
  • What did the earthquake damage?
    The earthquake damaged my house.
  • Who did Jennifer lie to?
    Jennifer lied to Sam.

Subject questions in English

However, sometimes we want to ask about the subject. We don’t know the person or thing who performed the action, and we want to find out.

This type of question is called a subject question, and subject questions do NOT use the auxiliary verbs do, does, and did.

How to form subject questions:

  • Who / What + verb in simple present or simple past + object ?

Examples of subject questions in the simple present:

  • Who wants some fruit juice?
    We want some fruit juice.
  • Who likes Fred?
    Karen likes Fred.
  • What causes cancer?
    Smoking causes cancer.

Examples of subject questions in the simple past:

  • Who made a sandwich?
    Daniel made a sandwich.
  • What damaged your house?
    The earthquake damaged my house.
  • Who lied to Sam?
    Jennifer lied to Sam.

Subject and Object Questions in Other Verb Tenses

In other verb tenses – present continuous, present perfect, etc. – the auxiliary verbs are forms of the verbs be and have. In these verb tenses, we still use the verbs be and have in both subject and object questions:

Present continuous:

  • Subject Q: Who is washing the car?
  • Object Q: What is Paul washing?
  • Answer: Paul is washing the car.

Past continuous:

  • Subject Q: Who was talking about the problem?
  • Object Q: What was the manager talking about?
  • Answer: The manager was talking about the problem.

Present perfect:

  • Subject Q: Who has spent $1000 on a computer?
  • Object Q: How much have your parents spent on a computer?
  • Answer: My parents have spent $1000 on a computer.

Present perfect continuous:

  • Subject Q: Who has been working on this project?
  • Object Q: What have you been working on?
  • Answer: I have been working on this project.

Future with WILL:

  • Subject Q: What will help the students?
  • Object Q: Who will this book help?
  • Answer: This textbook will help the students.

Future with GOING TO:

  • Subject Q: Who is going to order dessert?
  • Object Q: What are you going to order?
  • Answer: We are going to order dessert.

The simplest rule for subject/object questions

When you are going to ask a question in the simple present or simple past using who or what, ask yourself,

“Am I asking about the doer of the action or the receiver of the action?”

If you’re asking about the doer/subject, then DON’T use do/does/did:

  • Who does want fruit juice?
    Who wants fruit juice?
  • What did damage your house?
    What damaged your house?

If you’re asking about the receiver/object, then YES – use do/does/did:

  • What do you want to drink?
  • What did the earthquake damage?

Learn more:

Quiz: Subject & Object Questions in English

You will see a sentence, and then two possible questions asking about it. Only ONE of the questions is formed correctly. Look carefully at the question to see if it is asking about the subject or object of the sentence, and then choose the grammatically-correct question. After you finish, click "Get Results" to check your answers.
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