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Imagine you have just entered a room and saw your friends talking about something. One of you friends is finishing her sentence (your friends are talking about aircraft, but you don't know that):

They all go to boneyard and stay there for good after they become too old.

You really want to know who "they" in this sentence are. From "stay at boneyard for good" you infer that the subject is inanimate things, rather than humans or animals.

So how would you ask of your friends a question that will help you find out the subject of their conversation?

1) Who goes to boneyard after it becomes too old?

2) What goes to boneyard after it becomes too old?

3) Who goes to boneyard after they become too old?

4) Who go to boneyard after they become too old?

5) What goes to boneyard after they become too old?

6) What go to boneyard after they become too old?

7) [something else?]

(I understand that I can simply ask "What are you guys talking about?", but I want to respond to the last sentence spoken by my friend)

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  • First of all, unless there is some place with the name of Boneyard, you really need to use an article. It should be a boneyard or the boneyard. And it's also goes, not go; who and what both take a singular verb if the subject is unknown. Jun 26, 2019 at 5:11
  • @JasonBassford - "who and what both take a singular verb if the subject is unknown" - What if the subject is unknown, but it's know that it is plural (like in my question)?
    – brilliant
    Jun 26, 2019 at 5:28
  • The plurality doesn't matter in any of the specific sentences in the question; they all have a construction that uses a singular form. However, for comparison, here is a construction where you could use a plural subject: Who are all of the people who go to the boneyard after they become too old? (And the answer would be a list of people in some form.) But also note that in that question it's known that the subject is people. Jun 26, 2019 at 5:55
  • @JasonBassford - "they all have a construction that uses a singular form" - I am afraid I would have to disagree with this assertion. Sentences 4 and 6 use "go", not "goes", in other words, they use plural form.
    – brilliant
    Jun 26, 2019 at 12:13
  • The construction I was taking about was putting who or what at the start of the sentences, as well as the other grammatical elements that they use. All of that combined makes the use of go simply wrong. You can't claim it's right because it was used. If that were a meaningful argument, then there would never be anything ungrammatical. Jun 26, 2019 at 16:22

1 Answer 1

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First of all, "What were you talking about" or "I'm sorry, I missed the start, what was the subject of discussion" Are far more natural ways to ask this question -- repeating much of the sentence as your examples do tends to sound stilted.

That said, if you understand the discussion to be about inanimate objects, your example 2 (or possibly 5) are the only correct options. 1, 3, & 4 are eliminated because "who" is not used for non-persons. 6 is eliminated because "what go" does not agree in number.

A possible 7: "What is being sent to the boneyard, please?"

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