Somebody telephoned Emma.

What is correct form if I want to ask a question?

Who telephoned Emma?


Who did telephone Emma?

2 Answers 2


According to the Cambridge Dictionary, telephone can in principle be used as a verb, but as this NGRAM shows, call and phone are a lot more common.

Who called Emma?

would be the most widely used of your two sentences. When you have a question word like who for the subject, it is not necessary to do an subject-auxiliary verb inversion. It is only necessary to insert do if inversion is required and there isn't already an auxiliary verb.

While did is not necessary, it can be added for emphasis: for example:

A: Did John call Emma? - inversion required because there is no question-word, and there is no auxiliary verb, so did must be added

B: No.

A: Well, who did call Emma? - did is optional, for emphasis

Note that, if the question word represents the object, however, you do need to do subject-auxiliary inversion:

Who did you call? - you is subject, must be inverted with did


Both sentences are grammatically correct but imply different meanings.

Who telephoned Emma?

  • you enquire about the person who made a call to Emma (Someone made a call to Emma, "Who" is a subject)

Who did telephone Emma?

  • you ask which person did Emma call (Emma made a call, Emma is a subject)
  • 2
    No, the second claim is completely wrong. Who did telephone Emma is unequivocally asking about the person who made the call to Emma. The difference is only one of emphasis - the version with did suggests something like "I thought it was X that telephoned Emma, but if it wasn't, then who was it?_
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 20, 2021 at 13:33
  • 1
    This is incorrect. Emma is the object of the verb in both cases, the recipient of the telephone call.
    – Chenmunka
    Jan 20, 2021 at 14:04

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