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Working on the book: Raymond Murphy. "English Grammar in Use - Fifth Edition" (p. 109)

Chapter 49: Questions 1

But do not use do/does/did if who/what etc. is the subject of the sentence. Compare:

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Some of the exercises at the end of the chapter are giving me troubles:

49.2 Make questions with who or what.

4a. I'm worried about something.

12a. Sarah was with somebody.

Book answers:

4b. What are you worried about ?

12b. Who was Sarah with ?

In ex. 4, what is the object. And, in ex. 12, who is also the object. So, according to the book, do/does/did should be used.

I'll appreciate if someone could explain what's happening, here.

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    I think maybe 12b is a "pathological" case (where Murphy's general-purpose principle doesn't apply). Perhaps because the concept of "subject/object" is almost meaningless in the context of Who was with her? / Who was she with? / He was with her / She was with him, I don't know. I'm not sure how useful that "rule" is even in the more general context though. If 4a is recast into the past as I worried about something, the "derived question" could just as easily be What did you worry about? as *What were you worried about? Jun 20 at 12:12
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This is because we don't add "do" ("do-support") before an auxiliary, including any version of "be". The examples you found without "do" all have a version of "be" as the first verb:

4a. I'm worried about something. (am)
4b. What are you worried about? (are)

12a. Sarah was with somebody. (was)
12b. Who was Sarah with? (was)

In the "standard dialects" that you usually see written and taught, we don't say *"do be", *"did being", etc., even when "who" or "what" is the subject of the sentence. As your examples show, this is true even when "be" is the main verb, which contrasts with how "do" is treated:

It was me. / Who was it?

I did it. / What did I do?

It seems we will put two "do"s in a row, like "did do", two "be"s in a row, like "was being", and "be" before "do", like "is doing", but not "do" before "be".

For more information on this, look up do-support. Do-support does not happen when there's an auxiliary verb already ("Who had he seen", not *"Who did he have seen"), or if the main verb is "be".

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  • Thank you ! Could you clarify "The examples you found without "do" all have a version of "be" as the first verb. " Which are those versions ?
    – F. Zer
    Jun 20 at 14:20
  • @F.Zer I edited to try to clarify, and reorganized a little. The general principle is "no do-support for auxiliaries" I think, and it applies even when the form of "be" is by itself.
    – Dan Getz
    Jun 20 at 15:43
  • I could understand. Thank you for your help, @Dan Getz.
    – F. Zer
    Jun 20 at 19:33

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