English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Why don't we use the auxiliary do in the following question:

How many people study there?

share|improve this question
Actually you can: "Most of the people there are not really studying." "Really? How many people do study there?" – JeffSahol May 8 '12 at 12:37
@Jeff that's not an auxiliary do, that's an emphatic do. The sentence is not asking the same thing at all. – RegDwigнt May 8 '12 at 12:46
@RegDwightΒВBẞ8 Do tell. – JeffSahol May 8 '12 at 20:04

Because how many people is the subject of the sentence. If you ask a question about the subject, you don't need do.

Examples: (subjects are italicized)

How many people study here?

Who wants chowder?

Whose child stole the keys?

Now, if the interrogative pronoun is not (part of) the subject, then we need do.


Who did you kill? (who = object)

Who killed you? (who = subject)

Hope this helped.

share|improve this answer
..Oh yeah that's absolutely right. It's simple - when the asked question is about the subject, we don't use 'do.' And when the question is about the object, 'do' is needed. – Carol Hardin May 8 '12 at 12:50
@zpletan: I know that technically whom is correct, but AFAIK who is also possible as an object. As a matter of fact I used who so that the contrast between the two sentences was emphasized by the graphical equality of the interrogative words. I am rolling back your changes now, but if you feel my arguments are not strong, please feel free to roll back again – Armen Ծիրունյան May 8 '12 at 12:59
@Armen, no problem. – zpletan May 8 '12 at 13:43

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.