Subject and Object Questions in English

John Lund DigitalVision

The following rules apply to question formation in English. While a number of more advanced ways to form questions in English exist, simple English questions always follow these rules. Generally speaking, there are two types of questions: object questions and subject questions.

Object questions 

Object questions are the most common types of questions in English. Object questions ask when, where, why, how, and if someone does something:

Where do you live?
Did you go shopping yesterday?
When are they going to arrive next week?

Subject questions

Subject questions ask who or which person or object does something:

Who lives there?
Which car has the best safety features?
Who bought that house?

Auxiliary Verbs in Object Questions

All tenses in English use auxiliary verbs. Auxiliary verbs are always placed before the subject in subject questions in English, with the main form of the verb being placed after the subject. 

Yes/No questions begin with the auxiliary verb:

  • Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Main Verb

Do you study French?

Information questions begin with question words such as where, when, why, or how.

How often did you visit Paris when you lived in France?
How long have you lived here?

Auxiliary Verbs in Subject Questions

Auxiliary verbs are placed after question words who, which, which kind of, and which type of in object questions. Drop the helping verb for present simple and past simple, as in positive sentences:

  • Who/Which (kind of/type of) + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb

Which type of food provides the best nutrition?
Who is going to speak at the conference next week?
What type of company employs thousands of people?

Finally, subject questions generally use simple tenses such as present simple, past simple and future simple.

Object Questions Focus on Tenses

While it's possible to form subject questions in each tense, the following examples focus on the use of object questions in a variety of tenses, as they are much more common.

Present Simple/Past Simple/Future Simple 

Use the auxiliary verb 'do/does' for present simple questions and 'did' for past simple questions plus the base form of the verb.

Present Simple

Where do they live?
Do you play tennis?
Does she go to your school?

Past Simple

When did you have lunch yesterday?
Did they buy a new car last week?
How did she do on the exam last month?

Future Simple

When will she visit us next?
Where will you stay when you get there?
What will we do?!

Present Continuous/Past Continuous/Future Continuous

Use the auxiliary verb "is/are" for present continuous questions and "was/were" for past continuous questions plus the present participle or "ing" form of the verb.

Present Continuous

What are you doing?
Is she watching TV?
Where are they playing tennis?

Past Continuous

What were you doing at six p.m.?
What was she cooking when you came home?
Were they studying when you walked into their room?

Future Continuous

What will you be doing next week at this time?
What will she be speaking about?
Will they be staying with you?

Present Perfect / Past Perfect / Future Perfect

Use the auxiliary verb " have/has" for present perfect questions and "had" for past perfect questions plus the past participle.

Present Perfect

Where has she gone?
How long have they lived here?
Have you visited France?

Past Perfect

Had they eaten before he arrived?
What had they done that made him so angry?
Where had you left the briefcase?

Future Perfect

Will they have finished the project by tomorrow?
How much time will you have spent reading that book?
When will I have completed my studies?!

Exceptions to the Rule - To Be - Present Simple and Past Simple

The verb "to be" takes no auxiliary verb in the present simple and past simple question form. In this case, place the verb "to be" before the subject to ask a question.

To Be Present Simple

Is she here?
Are you married?
Where am I?

To Be Past Simple

Were they at school yesterday?
Where were they?
Was she at school?

This is the basic structure of all questions in English. There are, however, exceptions to these rules as well as other structures. Once you understand this basic structure, it's also important to continue learning about how to use indirect questions and tag questions

Remember that questions are one of three forms for each sentence. There is always a positive, negative and question form for each sentence. Study your verb forms and you'll be able to easily use each of these tenses to have conversations and ask questions effectively. 

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Subject and Object Questions in English." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Beare, Kenneth. (2023, April 5). Subject and Object Questions in English. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "Subject and Object Questions in English." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).