What is Subject questions in English – Basic English Syntax » Luyện thi Gò Vấp
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Subject questions

The last issue concerning interrogatives we will discuss concerns the difference between wh-questions which focus on the main clause subject and all other kinds of wh-questions. With most wh-questions it is fairly easy to see that movements take place as elements such as objects and adjuncts do not appear in their expected positions, but at the beginning of the clause:

  • who1 did they execute t1
  • when1 was the meeting scheduled t1

Inversion is also possible to detect as the auxiliary and the subject end up on the opposite sides of each other. But when it is the main clause subject that is the focus of the question, things are no longer so clear cut. The word order is consistent with at least three analyses:

  • [CP e [IP who can save the world]] (a)
  • [CP who1 e [IP t1 can save the world]] (b)
  • [CP who1 can2 [IP t1 t2 save the world]] (c)

In (a) both the wh-subject and the auxiliary are in the IP and do not move to the CP. In (b) the wh-subject moves to the specifier of CP but the auxiliary does not move and in (c) both the subject and the auxiliary move. But which one is correct and how can we know? From all that we have said above, one might hope that (c) is accurate as only in this is the CP specifier filled with a wh-element and the head filled by something it can agree with. However, doubt is cast on this conclusion from the following phenomena:

  • who did you meet
  • who met you

It seems that for some reason, to which we return shortly, main verbs cannot move to C. So when a wh-element moves to the specifier of CP and it requires some element in the C position to agree with, the dummy auxiliary is used and hence we get do– insertion.

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