On another forum, two native English speakers insisted that the questions shown below were incorrect English. Please tell me why, if the affrimative forms (answers) shown are allowed, the question form is not.

What does psychology study?

What does solid state physics study?

What does quantum mecahnics study?


  • Psychology studies the relationship between environments and human behaviour.

  • Psychology studies the human psyche, behavior, and mental processes. This diverse field has roots in biology, medicine, philosophy, religion, and history. ...

  • Solid state physics studies the processes taking place on surfaces and semi-conductors. Theoretical physics above all examines the theory of quantum fields, gravitation and quantum information.

  • Quantum mechanics studies the behavior of atoms and the particles that make them up.
1 2

I would say both the questions and answers are acceptable. I hesitate, just a little, about the questions. I think it's because, while the answers are very clearly just a 'passive definition', the questions seem to have a slightly more 'active' feel to them, like some person is actually studying something, sitting in a library, turning pages.

That's why I might be more inclined to say 'What does a psychologist study?' Or, I might choose another verb, eg 'What does psychology deal with?'

But, as I said, I think 'What does psychology study?' is acceptable.

Best wishes, Clive
Isn't just a reduced question? A short form for "What does the discipline/practice of psychology study?"
Teachers: We supply a list of EFL job vacancies

I thought about this a bit more, and have one more comment.

Rather than 'Physics studies . . . .', I'd prefer to say 'Physics is the study of . . . '.

However, the question 'What is physics the study of?' seems very awkward, so I wouldn't use this as a question form.

So, once again, what you suggested is certainly idiomatic English, you hear it a lot.

Physics is actually the science of matter and energy and their interactions. It is a scientific discipline. So, we can say "The discipline of physics studies/looks at/investigates..."
Yes, the questions are correct and idiomatic. Maybe they are not common in everyday use, but in their context, they are quite normal.

Give this to the doubters:

Do books read?

This book reads well.

Do they translate?

This book translates easily. (You could add "with the help of a good lexicon" there - if you are confused by the agentless form.)

Does minced meat freeze itself?

MInced meant does not freeze well?

Can science literally show? No! But...

Science shows us truth and beauty and fills each day with a fresh wonder of the exquisite order which governs our world.

Does psychology actually study? No! But...

Psychology studies the human psyche, behavior, and mental processes.

Have fun!
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Hello guys

You are talking about "ergative verbs" (some grammarians call them "middle verbs"). This kind of verbs can be both transitive and intransitive. In the transitive use, the subject is a doer (or an agent). In the intransitive use, the subject is a thing to be done (or a patient). Take "sell" for example.
(EX-1) They sell Harry Potter books in the store.
(EX-2) Harry Potter books sells like hotcakes.
EX-2 is an active sentence in the form but it is a passive sentence in the meaning. This type of construct is called "activo-passive construct" or "middle construct".

In activo-paasive constructs, the verbs are used always as an intransitive verb. But the "study" in "History studies past events" is not an intransitive. It is said English has about 600 ergative verbs. But as far as I know, "study" is not included in the list. The subject of "study" is always persons, though robots could study something in future.

Is your "ergative" explanation the same as this?

Contraponents are verbs that are non-passive in form (i.e. they lack the auxiliaries be and get and are finite in form) but whose sense is passive. This use of transitive verbs is very common in timeless statements like "This book translates easily." A normal agent is excluded, but instrumental "with the aid of good lexicon" could be added.
Hello Anon

I feel Bailey's "contraponents" means a wider range of verbs than "ergative verbs" because she include transitive/intransitive pairs of different forms such as set/sit or lay/lie in them.

If you are interested, please visit "engative verbs" ?

Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
Show more