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There is a set of exams (e.g. SAT subject tests, AP exams, etc.), and a (male) student is necessarily taking more than one of those exams. My friend knows which ones he's taking, so I'm asking him which ones. Which sentence is correct?

"Which exams is he taking?"

or

"Which exams are he taking?"

Both sound weird to me, especially the second (even though I believe that is technically the correct one).

I would appreciate if somebody could help tag this question properly.

  • 1
    What are the exams which he is taking ? – Nigel J Aug 20 '18 at 14:07
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    The subject is the singular "he", so the verb should be the singular "is". Note that "which exams" is a noun phrase functioning as object of "taking". – BillJ Aug 20 '18 at 14:10
  • @BillJ Yes, it's like "With which people is he friends" vs "Which people are his friends?" – WS2 Aug 20 '18 at 16:47
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    This is more suited to English Learners, surely? – m69 ''snarky and unwelcoming'' Aug 20 '18 at 19:00
  • Rearrange the sentence and put the subject first: He is taking which exams? – Kenneth K. Aug 20 '18 at 19:31
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In order to decide which of the two sentences is correct, you need to understand the syntax:

  • the subject is he,
  • the object is which exams,
  • the main verb is take combined with the auxiliary be.

The number of the verb depends on the number of the subject. Since the subject is singular ("he"), the verb is also singular.

So one may say, "He is taking exams in two subjects this year." And the correct form of the question would be, "Which exams is he taking?"

  • Is this different than if the subject was "you"? I would say "Which exams ARE you taking?" – Matthew FitzGerald-Chamberlain Aug 20 '18 at 19:27
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    @MatthewFitzGerald-Chamberlain If the subject is "you", the verb is "are" ("Which exams are you taking?"), since you can't say "you is". It does not matter whether "you" refers to a single person or several persons. – IkWeetHetOokNiet Aug 20 '18 at 19:30
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A good trick when dealing with the grammar of questions is to consider what the answer may look like.

The answer to the question...

Which exams (is/are) he taking?

is along the lines of...

He (is/are) taking these exams.

The word order in the question is inverted, but otherwise the grammatical structure is the same, with the object changing from "which exams" to "these exams".

In both cases the subject of the sentence is "he", and in both cases the correct form of the verb is the third-person singular, "is".

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