Breaking a rule with verb to be

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yellow sun

Senior Member
Arabic
Hi:
There is an English rule that we have not to invert the subject and verb order when we ask about subject like:
"Who eat the cake?" but with verb "to be" I notice that the rule is broken for example :
"Who are they?"
We put the verb are before the subject they.
Why?
Thanks.
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Hello, yellow sun. In questions like "Who are they?" the answer is "They are X". "Who" takes the place of the subject complement (not the subject) in that type of question.

    In both questions, the interrogative pronoun "who" takes the first position, which is the position that the subject pronoun or noun usually takes in a normal declarative sentence. You may notice that "Who ate the cake?" really doesn't invert anything. In the answer, "John ate the cake", the word order is the same as it was in the question.

    Who are they? They are my friends. ("Who" takes the first position in the question. "They" is the subject of the declarative sentence. "My friends" is the subject complement.)
    Who ate the cake? John ate the cake. (The cake is not the subject of this sentence. "John" is the subject.)
     
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    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Yellow Sun, it might be wise to look up "subject complement" on a grammar website. I'm afraid you've picked up some mistaken notion of what a subject complement is.

    "My friends" is a predicative expression that follows a linking verb and further explains the noun or pronoun that came before the linking verb. That predicative expression is indeed a subject complement, no matter what others may have told you. Here is a link to a Wikipedia article that should help clear things up: subject complement

    By the way, I don't disagree that the "wh-word" is a subject complement, nor do I disagree that "they" is the subject of the question. Had you not been so eager to disengage, we might have struggled through any confusion over terminology together.
     
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