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A friend and I are having an argument over which of the following is correct:

  1. What courses is everyone taking?

  2. What courses are everyone taking?

I say the first is grammatical, because in the parallel construction "Everyone is taking what courses?", "everyone" is the subject, and "is" acts on "everyone". My friend argues that the subject changes in the inverted form. Which pattern is right?

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  • For future reference (and googleability), what grammatical form or rule do these types of questions follow? Jul 5, 2017 at 22:49
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    They're both wrong. "What courses is everyone taking?" is ungrammatical, because "courses" is plural. But "What courses are everyone taking?" although grammatical, sounds funny. A native speaker wouldn't ask it either way. Jul 5, 2017 at 22:54
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    @developerwjk: Take a look at the duplicate; your argument is not correct. Would you say "What courses is he taking?" is incorrect? How about "What courses am I taking?"
    – herisson
    Jul 5, 2017 at 22:58
  • @sumelic Ok, the "everyone" is making it hard to figure out, as you said. My gut feeling is they're both wrong. "What courses are everyone else taking?" sounds much better. Or if this is directed to "everyone": "What courses are you all taking?" Jul 5, 2017 at 23:05
  • I think you've hit on a real doozy here. I think both sound unidiomatic and are hence quite possibly unacceptable. I'd certainly use 'What are the courses that everyone is taking?' Jul 6, 2017 at 0:01

4 Answers 4

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  1. What courses is everyone taking?

This is technically grammatical, even though it may sound odd to a non-negligible amount of people. "What courses" is not a grammatical subject in this sentence: this is made clear by comparing it to the sentences "What courses is he taking?", "What courses am I taking?", and "Everyone is taking those courses." The pronoun "everyone" is always singular as a subject, so the grammatically correct verb form is the third-person singular "is" (agreeing with the subject "everyone").

  1. What courses are everyone taking?

This is correct only if you would accept "are" in a sentence like "Everyone are taking those courses".

Sentences with inversion can be tricky to parse, which means the grammatically correct option may not be immediately apparent and might not sound right. Feel free to restructure these kinds of sentences if the correct version sounds wrong to you (a comment by Edwin Ashworth suggests the alternative "What are the courses that everyone is taking?").

The use of "what" or "which" doesn't make a difference to the verb agreement. In this context, either interrogative adjective is possible, but which is more formal: the Oxford English Dictionary says what as an interrogative adjective is

Used in asking the identity of a choice made from an indefinite set of alternatives. Also (now chiefly colloquial): used in asking the identity of a choice from a definite set of alternatives (= which adj. A.I.3).

There is a separate question about what vs. which.

Other similar questions:

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    a non-negligeable amount of people?? Have you weighed them? :) The simplest way to answer this is to provide the declarative form first then the interrogative form...
    – Lambie
    Nov 5, 2023 at 17:09
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"Everyone" is singular; in fact, "one" is about as singular as you can get. For that reason, the singular verb is required. Because "courses" is plural and countable, "which" is the correct interrogative pronoun to use.

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Treat "everyone" as a singular noun and the answer is clear.

He is reading these lines.

Which lines is he reading?

Everyone is reading these lines.

Which lines is everyone reading?

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  • This is the right process for determining the correct form, for sure.
    – Lambie
    Nov 5, 2023 at 17:10
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The reason this is confusing is because of the following:

For all courses that are available to all students, WHICH courses are the courses that everyone is taking. It is actually an issue involving set theory. For all elements in set A (students), what element intersect B (the set of courses of which each and every student is taking)? The way is usually can be phrased is: "Which classes are the ones that all of the students are taking?"

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