I'm struggling to identify subjects and objects in indirect questions. Any rule of thumb to distinguish them apart?

Here is my thinking..

In the following question, which would be the subject and object?

"Could you explain what this is?

The subject of the sentence:

"you" or "this"?

Tips to help identify? Correct me if I am wrong, please.

"this" is the Subject as the answer would start with what it is.

example: "It" is a strange hat.

Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

1 Answer 1


Let us parse:

A good way to parse a question is to look at the corresponding statement. In most statements, the grammatical subject comes first:

You could explain what this is.

It is now clear that the subject is "you" the verb phrase is "could explain", and the object is a noun phrase "what this is"

That noun phrase is a clause with a subject "this" a verb "is" and complement "what" (the question word complement heads the phrase)

So both "this" and "you" are subjects. One is the subject of the main verb "could explain" and one is the subject in the subordinate clause "what this is"

  • Thank you James :)
    – Pubwie
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 0:17

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