CalifJim wrote:
When a form of the verb "to be" is involved, it may be slightly more difficult to determine which word is the subject.

This is from an ancient post. I wonder if there is any trick of guide to know when an interrogative word functions as a subject or object in a question when we have the verb to be. I'll write some as example sentences:

Who are these boys? -> Subject (?)
Whose books are these?
-> Subject (?)
Which car is yours? -> Subject (?)
What is your name? -> Subject (?)

So, how do I recognize them? In that old thread appears this question: What is the homework? -> Object.
Should I focus in the answer or in the indirect speech, for ex.?
1 2
Hello Latin

Is this the thread?


It seems to me that with the verb "to be", the interrogative must always relate to the subject, unless there's a preposition. Compare for instance:

1. Who is that?

2. Who is that for?

In #2, "who" is the object of the preposition "for".

the interrogative must always relate to the subject
What does this mean, Mr. P.? -- particularly "relate to".
Do you mean to say that the question word is always the subject (with the exception noted) when the main verb is "to be"?
(I'm not so sure that's true.)

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<What does this mean?>

Sloppy phrasing, probably...

Am I missing something here, CJ? I can't think of a case of "who? + to be" (excluding "who" as prepositional object and "to be" as auxiliary) where "who" functions as the object.

If I dont' understand wrong, in the question: Who are you? who is the object, because the indirect question is: I don't know who you are.(In an indirect question, subject and verb are notinverted). The same thing occurs with: Whose books are these? changes to I don't know whose these books are. Emotion: tongue tied
With "to be" there won't be an object, so yes, I agree that there won't be a case of "who?" + "to be" where "who" functions as the object. But change "object" to "predicate complement" and you will find cases where "who" functions as predicate complement.

To borrow from the thread mentioned above, note that subject and verb are inverted for direct questions; uninverted for indirect questions.

(1) Who is she?
(2) I don't know who she is.

In the indirect question above (2), "she is" represents a subject and verb, not a predicate complement and verb. So in the direct question (1), "she" is again the subject, and "who" is the predicate complement (or loosely speaking, 'object').

The "rule" says that you can form (2) from (1) by 'uninverting' the subject and verb of (1) to form the necessary structure to place in (2). But if the subject is being questioned (as in "Who is in charge of drinks?") there was no inversion, so to form an indirect question from a direct question, you don't 'uninvert', as no inversion was applied in the first place.
So my cautionary remarks in that other thread were to prevent the following kind of thinking:

"Who is that?"
"who" is the subject. Therefore no inversion was used to create this question. Therefore the indirect question form is the same, yielding (the incorrect): "I have no idea who is that."
The correct analysis yields "that" as the subject, which then has to be uninverted with "is" to form "I have no idea who that is."

When "who" (or any other question word) is truly the subject, the process is different, as explained above:
"Who is in charge of drinks?"
"I can't even guess who is in charge of drinks."

Have I cheated by using a prepositional phrase instead of a noun or pronoun after "to be"? I don't know. Emotion: smile In any case, I admit it is difficult to invent examples with "who" + "to be" + noun which have this characteristic.
Nevertheless, examples with another question word, "which", seem possible.

Imagine several people in costumes and masks. Mary is wearing the 'ballerina' mask. Janine is wearing the 'nurse' mask. "I don't know which is the nurse" and "I don't know which the nurse is" are both possible.
"I don't know which is Mary" and "I don't know which Mary is" are both possible.
In these cases it depends on which element one construes as the subject, doesn't it? It is this sort of confusion between the 'identified' and the 'identifier' that I was alluding to in the other thread. And frankly, it has now got meso confused, I'm sure I should stop before I say something really stupid! Emotion: smile

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Isn't is curious that "who" doesn't work, but "which one" does in such constructions?

*?I don't know who is the nurse.
I don't know who the nurse is.
I don't know which one is the nurse.

Does this suggest that "who" is actually never the subject in "who" + "to be" + noun? Now that's quite the reverse of it always being the subject!!!

Or is it a matter of which tense we use?

There is to be a race.
It's impossible to guess who will be the winner. (Or is this questionable, too?)
It's impossible to guess who the winner will be.
It's impossible to guess which one will be the winner.

Or is it a matter of which introductory phrase we use?

I wonder who is the winner. (Or is this questionable, too?)
I wonder who the winner is.
I wonder which one is the winner.

Maybe someone more prescriptive can just quote something out of a grammar book and put me out of my misery!

I think I'm getting there, CJ. But why isn't "Who" the equivalent of a subject complement?

Oops! Am I using the wrong term?

The current president of the U.S.is George W. Bush.

"George W. Bush" in that sentence is _____?
I call it a predicate nominative or a predicate complement.
Is "subject complement" the proper term?

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