Questions‏‎ in English Grammar

Questions are used to get information we do not already have.© <a href=’http://www.flickr.com/96dpi/’ target=’_blank’>96dpi</a>

There are a number of different ways of forming questions in English depending on the kind of information we want.

Questions are basically the other side of the coin to statements‏‎ in that statements give us something and questions ask us for something.

The Basics

Questions begin with a capital letter‏‎ and end with a question mark.

Two common ways of asking questions in written English are through inversion‏‎ and using do:

statement: You are Spanish.
question: Are you Spanish?
statement: You speak Spanish.
question: Do you speak Spanish?

If the verb‏‎ in a sentence‏‎ is be, we use inversion to make a question. This means we change the positions of the subject and the verb:

statement: {subject} + {be} …
question: {be} + {subject} …
statement: They were Spanish.
question: Were they Spanish?

We also use inversion to make questions with modal verbs‏‎ and auxiliary verbs‏‎:

statement: {subject} + {auxiliary/ modal} + [auxiliary] + {main verb}
question: {auxiliary/modal} + {subject} + [auxiliary] + {main verb}
statement: You can see England from here.
question: Can you see England from here?
statement: They should be arriving soon.
question: Should they be arriving soon?

When the verb in a sentence is not be or modal or auxiliary, we use do to make questions.

statement: {subject} + {verb}
question: {do} + {subject} + {infinitive}
statement: You know Simon.
question: Do you know Simon?
statement: He likes pizza.
question: Does he like pizza?
statement: She broke the record.
question: Did she break the record?

Notice that do changes for the past tense and when we talk about he, she or it in the present tense:

Do you like…

Does she like…

Did she like…

We can also make questions by using a rising intonation‏‎ at the end of a statement. This is very common in spoken English:

statement: You’re going. with falling intonation
question: You’re going? with rising intonation

Alternative Questions

These questions are the same as above and use or before the last alternative:

Is she wearing blue or green?

Should we take a bus, the car or a taxi?

Question Words

As well as inversion and using do, we can also use special question words to make questions. These look for extra information; for example here we ask for basic information (yes or no) and then go on to ask for further information using the question word, where.

question: Does she live in Rome?
answer: Yes
question: Where exactly does she live in Rome?
answer: In the south, near the river.

To make this kind of question, we use this pattern:

{question word} + {modal/auxiliary} + {subject} + {infinitive}

question word – used for – example
who people Who is your brother?
what things What is your name?
where places Where do you live?
when time When are you leaving?
why reasons Why did I fail?
how methods How does this work?
whose possession Whose car is this?
which things Which one is yours?

Which & What

When we ask in general, we can use what:

What are you going to buy?

When there is a limited choice, we use which:

Which one are you going to buy? The red or the green?

Reasons

Instead of using why we can often use what…for:

Why are you here?

What are you here for?

General/Specific

To be very specific, we can say what kind of:

What kind of car did you buy?

I bought a 1956 Mercedes.

To make a general inquiry, we can use what…like:

What was Paris like?

Not bad, but maybe a bit cold.

More Information

For more information we can use:

{how} + {adjective/adverb} …

How big is the house?

How much was the coat?

How far is London?

How often do you watch television?


Posted in Sentence Structure.