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19 / 07 / 2006

AUXILIARIES IN QUESTIONS: meaning and examples

Good morning,

Almost two months ago we received the following query from Pilar N.

Hello, I have a doubt that perhaps you may clarify. I'd like to know when it is necessary to put an auxiliary on questions formed with a question word. I've realized that sometimes the auxiliary is not used and other times it is. Can you give me the key to doing it correctly?

Consider the sentence below:

Katie bought a skirt.

If we form questions based on this sentence, I think it will help you to see when we need to include an auxiliary. We can make at least two different questions:

Question 1: What did Katie buy?

In this example, we use the auxiliary, "did," because we are asking about the object of the verb (skirt).

When we ask about the person who bought the skirt, that is, the subject of the verb, we don't use an auxiliary.

Question 2: Who bought a skirt?

Now compare the questions and answers in examples (A) and (B) below:

A: What does Pierre speak? He speaks French. (What = object)
B: Who speaks French? Pierre.

In (A), what is asking about the object of the verb.
In (B), who is asking about the subject of the verb.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When asking a question like the one in (B) we always use the third person singular, although the answer may be plural.

C: Who speaks German? Johan and Fritz speak German.

I hope that helps Pilar.

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Enjoy the rest of your day!