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is ''What'' also a Subject? 

What is your hobby?

What is your name?

Coco, "what" is the subject complement, not the subject, in those questions. Proof of this is that the answer to "what" will usually appear after "is" in the reply:

- My hobby is collecting stamps. (More natural than "Collecting stamps is my hobby.")

- My name is Gustavo. (More natural than "Gustavo is my name.")

As a result, the reported versions of those questions would be:

- He asked me what my hobby was.

- He asked me what my name was.

Thank you, Gustavo. 

How can I differentiate between what as a subject and what as a subject complement?

They are used with the same word "what".

Let me analyze the two question and tell me if I am right.

1. What is the matter with you?

What: subject

is: to be

the matter: subject  complement

with: preposition

you: object

2. What is your hobby?

What: subject complement

is: to be

your hobby: subject

Thank you so much.





Coco, if you read David's explanatation in the old thread I quoted (https://thegrammarexchange.inf...c/what-is-the-matter), you'll see that "what's the matter" is an idiom, that is, a set phrase whose components always remain in that position, even in reported speech: He wants to know what is the matter with her; I asked him what was the matter with him.

Leaving aside that case as an exception, subject and subject complement will be defined by the position the reply to "what" (also "who" or "which") occupies in the answer to the question.

- What's wrong with you? (Something is wrong with you. -> here "what" is the subject, because "something" occupies the place of "what" in subject position)
- I want to know what is wrong with you.

- What's the problem with you? (much less usual than "What's the matter with you?") (The problem with you is that you look worried. -> here "what" is the subject complement, because "that you look worried" occupies the place of "what" as a subject complement in the answer)
- I want to know what the problem with you is.


Thanks for your help, Gustavo, and for linking to that four-year-old thread. I felt certain that we had discussed this issue before, but I had no recollection that the thread-starter was none other than Coco herself.

I am perhaps fonder now than I was at the time of your suggestion that "the matter" can be analyzed as the equivalent of "wrong." Other possibilities include translating it as equivalent to "is bothering you," "is causing a commotion," etc.

This idiomatic usage always has the quality of a predicate, like "is wrong," "is bothering you," etc. There is always a presupposition that something is the matter / is wrong / is bothering you. The question inquires about the cause.

Perhaps the only declarative context in which the idiom "the matter" occurs is in such statements as "Nothing is the matter," which is often used (sometimes defensively) in answer to the question "What's the matter?"

The statement "Nothing is the matter" is worth pondering, Coco. It simply would not work (would make no sense whatsoever) to say, "The matter is nothing." Again, the idiom "the matter" is always a predicate; it is never the subject.

That is a pretty big generalization, and generally I like to avoid generalizations, but here I feel comfortable making one. If anyone came up with an example in which "the matter" (in this idiomatic usage) was truly a subject, I'd be impressed.

Dear David and Gustavo.

Please forgive me for my absent-mindedness. 

At first, I was right when I thought that ''the matter'' was a subject complement. 

But then my mind appeared the sentence " What is your hobby?" 

Comparing the two sentences: ''What is the matter?''; ''What is your hobby?'', I was confused, they are so identical in grammatical structure. 

Now I understand completely. I promise I won't ask such a kind of question.

Thank you both for helping me with all your heart and I am a student with my bad mind which worth punishing. 

Last edited by cocoricot

Dear Coco,

There is no reason for you to feel sorry or embarrassed that you asked what is essentially the same question twice. It is an interesting topic, and I am glad that it came up again. I feel that I can explain the matter better now than I could before.

It is also very understandable that this question should have arisen more than once for you. Slippery grammatical problems are like that. Sometimes we feel we have a good grip on them, but then they can slide right out of our hands.

Any genuine grammatical question is a good grammatical question to ask on the Grammar Exchange, and any grammatical question will be genuine if you still have it, regardless of whether you have asked about it before.

Thank you, as always, for your questions. You are a very valued member of GE.

Best regards,


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