"Was it your father who made these bookshelves?"


"Were these bookshelves made by your father?"

I've been constructing questions (and statements) in the former way quite a lot.

But, I'm having doubts... Is this correct? I'm not sure if I've ever heard (or seen) such a sentence from anyone else (than me)... and it seems too similar to how I'd ask this in my native language (Polish)... so, I wonder, if I didn't unknowingly literately "autotranslate" this question from Polish to English... with the result being either artificial or outright incorrect.

Thus, may I ask if it is true that:

  1. The former sentence is incorrect, only the latter one is correct;
  2. The former sentence is correct, but sounds artificial in English; only the latter sentence should normally be used;
  3. Both sentences are correct and sound naturally; the difference between these two sentences is that they stress slightly different things?
  • Another "neutral" way to ask is, "did your father make these bookshelves?" -- the meaning is basically the same as "was it your father who made..." but somehow the sentence sounds less like implying any sort of criticism, I think. "Did your father make these bookshelves" is grammatically active voice. The passive voice (very neutral form) is "were these bookshelves made by your father?" All 3 sentences are very clear and basically mean the same for the listener: did Dad make those shelfs? Whether the "tone" is positive, neutral or negative depends on the condition of the shelfs themself. Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 16:04
  • @EnglishStudent Interesting. To my ear there is a slight difference between "did your father make..." and "what is your father who made...". If someone's father promised to make some bookshelves and I'd like to know if he's already fulfilled his promise, I'd use the former. If I'm looking at completed bookshelves and I want to know who made them, I'd use the latter. For me, the two questions ask different things: I know the bookshelves are made, but who made them? vs. I know who was supposed to make the bookshelves, but are they made?
    – gaazkam
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 16:04
  • Yes indeed @gaazkam. But our aim in asking "neutral" sentences here is to make the listener less awkward/defensive if (they think) their father's shelves were not very good. "I know the bookshelves are made, but who made them?" __ then the best "neutral question" is who made these shelves? Don't even bring the father into it yourself. But if you need to do it, "were these shelves built by your father" is a good "more neutral" option. Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 16:09
  • You are most welcome @gaazkam. Note 2: I am not a native speaker of English but I think "was it your father who made..." is rarely heard. If that is what someone wants to know they might ask "who made these shelfs? (Was it) your father?" Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 16:14
  • Note 3 (last note!): if someone wants to be deliberately accusatory they might use "was it" first as in "was it your father who told the headmaster that my son cuts classes?"// "was it your son who spray-painted a rude word on the schoolhouse wall? // "was it your statement that got Tintin expelled from UK?" Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 16:18

1 Answer 1


Both sentences are completely equal, in their entirety.

Some people only listen to part of what you say and shutout the remainder, in such cases the second sentence will get you further with receiving an answer. I don't defend or support such a short attention span but some people hear a few words and simply assume that they know the rest, impatient to respond quickly they trip themselves up.

Simply saying "Who made this (or this bookshelf)?" leaves out having the person defend their father's handiwork, if the bookshelves are falling apart it becomes an insult.

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