English as a Second Language/What? plus articles


Dear Shannoun,

It is known that "do" help form the the negative and interrogative of sentences. But why it is not the case here: "What impressed you?"

*What country did not live in before?
*What sort of books are you reading at the moment?
Why there is no articles before 'country' and 'sort'?

Why it is incorrect to say "This is the man I talked to "him"? (i.e. inserting the pronoun 'him')
What is the grammar here?

Kind regards,
Antoine Ghannoum

1. Normally, yes.  But when a question word takes the normal place of a subject, even in a question, we don't use that rule.  See: http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/clause-phrase-and-sent

2. You are using "what" (or "which") with a noun, and this is sometimes possible.  In those cases, no articles are used.

3. "Him" is a pronoun, which replaces the object of the sentence.  You still have the original object listed ("the man"), so you cannot use "him" until you remove the original object (and create a replacement).  Also in this case, you have a shorted colloquial form.  The most grammatical correct form (according to many experts) would be, "This is the man with whom I spoke." And many pure grammarians would indicate the use of "he" instead of "him."  So, to really change it, we could say, "This is he with whom I spoke," yet no one actually speaks that way.  As it would sound odd with this construction, we would probably choose "one" instead: "This is the one I talked to."  Sometimes the simplest solution is the best!  "This is the man I talked to."

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Shannon Cole


I can answer questions related to learning the English and Spanish language.


I have taught ESL and Spanish since 1998 at the university and middle school levels. I am a native of the U.S., and have taught in both the U.S. and Mexico.

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Georgia TESOL in Action (1999)

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