Which sentence is correct?

  • Who don't want to lend his umbrella?
  • What Paul doesn't want to lend?
  • What doesn't Paul want to lend?
  • Only one of those is grammatical, but the first one is saying something quite different from the others. Sep 28, 2015 at 18:14
  • yes, I know the first is different, but is it correct? and the other ... which one is correct? ... if there is one correct ...
    – trisha
    Sep 28, 2015 at 18:27
  • "What doesn't Paul want to lend?" Is the only grammatically correct sentence. The first sentence would be correct if "don't" was changed to "doesn't." Sep 28, 2015 at 18:39
  • Just to add to what I said, the second sentence could be correct, but mostly just in informal, conversational English, used as an answer to some specific question(s). However, this would be very uncommon. Sep 28, 2015 at 18:41
  • @tisha If you already know the basic of subject-verb agreements and how to form Yes/No questions, this answer to What causes X or What does cause X? should be helpful. Sep 28, 2015 at 18:42

2 Answers 2


The default value of "who" is singular. So if you don't know what "who" refers to, you should treat is as singular. So your first sentence is not idiomatic and should be:

Who doesn't want to lend his umbrella?

There's an exception to this rule, of course. When it is presupposed that the answer is plural, the plural agreement can be used, eg:

Who haven't yet handed in their assignments?

Your second sentence is not grammatical because it lacks a subject-auxiliary inversion. It should be "What doesn't Paul want to lend?", which is your third sentence.

However, "What Paul doesn't want to lend" can be construed as a fused-relative clause (also known as a nominal relative clause), similar to "that which Paul doesn't want to lend". A fused relative cannot be a stand-alone clause. It should be embedded in another clause. The sentence below, for example, is grammatical:

What Paul doesn't want to lend is his umbrella

It can also be a subordinate interrogative (embedded question):

I don't know what Paul doesn't want to lend

The meaning of the sentence is similar to that of I don't know the answer to the question "what doesn't Paul want to lend". In a subordinate interrogative, the question is embedded in another sentence, in which case, the subject-auxiliary inversion is excluded.


The first sentence should be:

Who wouldn't want to lend his umbrella?

The second one isn't a question. Its more like a statement about something that Paul doesn't want to lend.

What Paul doesn't want to lend.

And the third, is a rhetorical question. Its a question to which an answer is not expected. It means that Paul would lend everything that he owns.

What doesn't Paul want to lend?

  • Your correction for the first sentence does not mean the same thing. (I can't exactly describe the nuance in words). The second sentence isn't a real sentence - it's a fragment. Dec 15, 2015 at 14:04
  • The third doesn't have to be rhetorical. It could simply be asking for clarification on the item(s) that Paul wishes to withhold or withdraw from circulation.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 11, 2017 at 4:59

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