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What - Part 2

What - Part 2

Alternative flash content

Requirements

What (object)


Hello! In this lesson we will learn to use the question word "what" to inquire about grammatical objects as it is different from inquiring about grammatical subjects. In a previous lesson, we concentrated on the question word "what" as it is used to inquire about grammatical subjects.

A dictionary definition of a grammatical object is that it is a noun, noun phrase, or noun substitute which represents by its syntactical position either the goal of the action of a verb or the goal of a preposition in a prepositional phrase. For example, in the sentence "Jennifer drinks coffee.", the word "coffee" is the object." We would use the question word "what" to elicit the answer "coffee", like this: "What does Jennifer drink?" ("She drinks coffee.".)

Here are some more examples of the question word "what" as it is used to elicit a grammatical object:

"What are you eating?" I am eating toast.

What does James study? James studies English and math.

What did you look at? I looked at a new car."

Here is a reminder about the question word "what" as it is used to inquire about grammatical subjects:
"What is it? It is a post office.

We can see that the subject in the sentence is the actor or the only noun or pronoun, whereas the object is the noun or pronoun for the person, place, thing or idea that is acted upon.

In this dialog, David is looking out the window of the apartment. Jennifer is nearby, asking him what he sees.

Jennifer: What do you see?

David: I see people.

Jennifer: What do they have?

David: They have packages and bags.

Jennifer: What else do you see?

David: I see clouds. What do you hear?

Jennifer: I hear thunder. What do you see?

David: I see lightning. What do you hear?

Jennifer: I hear rain. What do you see?

David: I see people.

Jennifer: What do the people have?

David: They have packages and bags -- and umbrellas!

Jennifer starts the conversation by asking David "What do you see?". The answer must be an object noun, noun phrase, or pronoun. In this case the answer is "I see people.". The word "people" is a noun.

It is easy to think that "people" should not be an answer to the question "what?" because people are not things, places, or ideas. But Jennifer did not know the answer before she asked the question. The answer could have been "buildings, cars, trees," or "flowers". The grammatical function of the word "people" in the sentence, even though it refers to people, is the same as any other noun, noun phrase, or object pronoun.

Jennifer asks "What do they have?". The answer must be an object noun, noun phrase, or object pronoun because the answer will be something that the people "have". What other questions might Jennifer have asked? She could have asked "What do they see?", "What do they want?", "What are they carrying?" – any question which uses a transitive verb – a verb with an object.

David replies "They have packages and bags.". What else could he have said? He could have replied, for example, "They have newspapers and books.", "They have flowers.", or "They have sacks of groceries.".

Jennifer asks "What else do you see?". Jennifer is using the question word "what" to inquire about an object of the verb "to see". Again, the answer must be a noun, noun phrase, or object pronoun. She could have asked "What are you looking at?".

David responds with "I see clouds.". How else could he have answered? He could have said "I see a dog." or "I see a man and a woman." or "I see kids on bikes.".

Then David asks "What do you hear?". The answer to David's question will l have to be a noun, noun phrase or object pronoun. Some answers could be "I hear cars." or "I hear children." or "I hear music.". The answer to David's question is "I hear thunder.".

Then she asks "What do you see?". It seems that a storm is brewing, and David verifies it by answering "I see lightning.". He could have said "I see a gray sky." or "I see puddles.".

He asks "What do you hear?", and Jennifer answers "I hear rain.". She could have said "I hear more thunder." or "I hear a lot of noise." or "I hear kids yelling.". Then she asks "What do you see?" to which David answers "I see people." He could have said "I see rain falling." or "I see mud puddles." or "I see dark skies.".

Jennifer asks "What do the people have?". Earlier in the conversation, David said the people had packages and bags. So it is likely that the people have Packages and bags. He answers, "They have packages and bags – and umbrellas!".

Now that we understand how to use the question word "what" to inquire about objects, let us listen to the dialog again.

Jennifer: What do you see?

David: I see people.

Jennifer: What do they have?

David: They have packages and bags.

Jennifer: What else do you see?

David: I see clouds. What do you hear?

Jennifer: I hear thunder. What do you see?

David: I see lightning. What do you hear?

Jennifer: I hear rain. What do you see?

David: I see people.

Jennifer: What do the people have?

David: They have packages and bags -- and umbrellas!

David and Jennifer's neighbors were prepared for rain. You are prepared to ask questions about what your neighbors and friends have, want, see, use, and hear! "What do you want to ask?".