I am teaching simple present tense to my intermediate ESL students and was stumped by this question: Why don't we use do/does in a question such as "What satisfies you?" According to the rule, we should use do/does in questions with the verb base, as in: "What does satisfy you?" Why does this seem to be an exception? Thanks for your ideas! Amy

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    Who says we don't use do-support with satisfy? Per the preceding sentence, it's often used to provide a suitable word that can be emphasised. As, for example, You say you're not into sex or drugs. What does satisfy you? (emphatically contrasting what does with what doesn't). Aug 2, 2017 at 13:06
  • @AmyM, Welcome to EL&U. Consider posting to English Language Learners
    – Mustafa
    Aug 2, 2017 at 14:19
  • Thanks, Mustafa. Is that a different exchange, or another part of this one?
    – AmyM
    Aug 3, 2017 at 15:10
  • Related ELL questions: Do I have to use “do” in any “wh-” question?, “Who pays” vs “who does pay” You don't need do-support because "what" is the subject of the sentence.
    – herisson
    Aug 4, 2017 at 5:28

1 Answer 1


There are several conditions on the use of Do-Support in a clause:

  1. Some operation must require an auxiliary verb
    (e.g, contraction of an auxiliary, or subject-auxiliary inversion).
  2. There must be no auxiliary verb in the clause already.

Not, for instance, has to go after the first auxiliary verb, and invokes Do-Support with no auxiliary:

  • I like him, but she doesn't like him.

Question formation (both Y/N and Wh-) uses subject-auxiliary inversion:

  • Does she like him? Yes, she likes him.
  • Who does she like? She likes him.

except in Wh- questions where the Wh-word is the subject:

  • Who likes him? She likes him.

In the example you give,

  • What satisfies you?

What is the subject. Since it's already at the beginning of the clause, no further
movement is required to signal a question, so no subject-auxiliary inversion.
Therefore no Do-Support, either.

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