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Questions in English

Hi dear English learners. I’ve had lots of requests related to making questions in English. It seems to be a tricky grammar topic. I’m sure it can’t be that difficult, but we should definitely try to clear some things out. Basically, there are two types of questions in English – yes/no questions and wh-questions. However, things aren’t that simple because many students don’t understand wh-questions with a preposition at the end of a sentence (ex. Who are you waving at?) or reported questions, question tags, etc. which I’ll try to cover in this lesson with lots of example sentences.

We will discuss the following topics:

  • How to make questions in English
  • Questions with modal verbs
  • Yes-no questions
  • Wh-questions 
  • Questions with prepositions at the end of a sentence
  • Negative questions
  • Subject questions and object questions
  • Direct and indirect questions
  • Reported questions
  • Question tags
  • Echo questions

Questions in English

How to make questions in English

First of all, we make questions by inversion. It means that we put an auxiliary verb before the subject.

  • I am going to the cinema tomorrow – Are you going to the cinema?
  • They like swimming – Do they like swimming?

Second, the intonation in interrogative sentences rises. We always put a question mark at the end of an interrogative sentence.

Let’s look at the ways we make questions in different verb tenses.

Present SimpleWe live in Brighton.Where do you live?
Past SimpleThey had a lie-in on Sunday. Did you have a lie-in?
Present ContinuousWe are running a marathon on Saturday. Are you running a marathon?
Past ContinuousThe children were sleeping when I came home.Were the children sleeping when you came home?
Present Perfect Simple They’ve gone on holiday to Turkey.Have they gone on holiday?
Present Perfect ContinuousWe’ve been waiting for an hour.Have you been waiting long?
Past Perfect He’d been to the cinema before he came here. Had you been to the cinema?
Past Perfect ContinuousI had been sleeping all night.Had you been sleeping?
Future SimpleI’ll buy a new camera.Will you buy a new camera?
Future Continuous We will be lying on the beach this time next month. What will you be doing this time next month?
Future PerfectI will have finished the project by tomorrow evening.When will you have finished it?
Future Perfect Continuous I will have been working here for a year tomorrow. How long will you have been working here tomorrow?
Be going toI’m going to tidy up the garage at the weekend.What are you going to do at the weekend?
Questions in English

Questions with modal verbs

Modal verbs are a kind of auxiliary verbs we use to express ability, possibility, permission, etc. They can’t stand alone, and they are always followed by a bare infinitive (infinitive without to). We form questions with modal verbs by putting them in front of the subject.

  • Can you swim?
  • Could I have a cup of coffee?
  • Must you smoke in here?
  • May I ask you a question?
  • Might you help me clean the garage this weekend?
  • Should I come to your place at 5?
  • Shall we go?
  • Will you help me with the luggage?
  • Would you like a sandwich?

Questions in English

Wh-questions 

These questions are a bit trickier, but still easy. We use them to ask about places, times, people… They start with a wh-question word such as: who, what, where, when, how, why, how long, how much, etc. the structure of a wh-question is 

Wh-question word + auxiliary/modal verb + subject + main verb

  • Who is that man you brought to the party last night?
  • What are you doing on Saturday?
  • Where shall we go to buy trainers?
  • How long have you been waiting?
  • How much money did you spend on your new kitchen?
  • How are we going to travel
  • Why is Mary mad at me?

Questions in English

Wh-questions with prepositions at the end of a sentence

Things are getting more complicated now because you need to know which preposition goes with which wh-question word. And that’s not all. You need to put it at the end of a sentence which can be a bit confusing, especially if the question is a long one. But I’m sure if you practice enough you’ll be able to understand this.

Here is the method to help you with this. 

Instead of saying: For who are you waiting? (I’ve heard many of my students forming questions this way, which is probably literally translated from their native language)

Say: Who are you waiting for? (just transfer the preposition to the end of the sentence)

Instead of saying: About what did you talk?

Say: What did you talk about?

Here are more example sentences:

  • Where do you come from?
  • What are they looking at?
  • Where did she go to?
  • What are they going to talk about at the briefing?
  • Who are they looking for?
  • Who was she with at the cinema last night?
  • Who was the book published by?
  • Who does Manchester United play against?
  • Which classroom are you in?

Questions in English

Negative questions

Negative questions can be contracted and uncontracted. Contracted ones are very common but you won’t see uncontracted negative questions very often because they are very formal.

  • Are you not coming with us? 
  • Aren’t you coming with us?

We normally use negative questions to:

1. ask for confirmation

  • Haven’t you been to London?
  • Didn’t I tell you to take a sandwich?
  • Aren’t children at school?
  • Aren’t you ready yet?

2. make requests, suggestions, etc.

  • Can’t you turn the TV off? You’re not watching it.
  • Why don’t you come with us? 
  • Won’t you help me with my homework? You promised.
  • Wouldn’t it be better if we left this for tomorrow? I’m exhausted.  

3. express your opinion

  • Don’t you think you’re a bit overdressed?
  • Shouldn’t you ask the doctor about that diet first?
  • Can’t you drive a bit faster? We’re late.
  • Don’t you ever clean your house? It’s a mess.

Questions in English

Subject questions and object questions

All your life English teachers have been telling you that questions are made by inversion. Well, all except subject questions. They have the same word order as a statement. It means, that when you want to ask about the subject of the sentence, you just put a wh-question word instead of it and don’t change the word order. We can make subject questions with who, what, whose, and how much/many.

  • Lorna has been shopping all day.
  • Who has been shopping all day?
  • The chair is broken.
  • What is broken?
  • My mother will be forty next week.
  • Whose mother will be forty next week?
  • Hundreds of people gathered at the city square.
  • How many people gathered at the city square?

Remember to use inversion when asking about the object of the sentence.

Compare:

The students liked their new teacher.

Subject question: Who liked the new teacher?

Object question: Did the students like their new teacher?

The hurricane ruined the village.

Subject question: What ruined the village?

Object question: What did the hurricane ruin?

My parents bought me a car.

Subject question: Who bought you a car?

Object question: What did your parents buy you?

Questions in English

Reported questions

When reporting a question: 

1. we change the word order so that it becomes a statement.

  • When do you usually start work?
  • She asked me when I usually start work. 

2.  we introduce reported yes /no questions with: ask/want to know + if / whether:

  • Did you ask Milly about her plans for the weekend?
  • He asked me if I asked Milly about her plans for the weekend.
  • Have you been to Egypt before?
  • He wanted to know whether I had been to Egypt before.

3. we introduce reported wh – question with ask / want to know + wh-question word.

  • Why did you tell her what happened?
  • She wanted to know why I told her what happened.
  • Where are you going on holiday?
  • She asked me where I was going on holiday.

Questions in English

Direct and indirect questions

As you know, we ask questions when seeking information. The question we ask can be direct: Where is the nearest hotel? But, if we want to be polite, we can ask the question indirectly. It means that we use an introductory phrase (for example: Can you tell me…? Would you mind…?) before the question in order to sound more polite. You can also add “Excuse me” or “Pardon me” before the introductory phrase if you want to be even more polite. Remember that the question after an introductory phrase has a word order like a statement.

Direct questionIndirect question
When do they serve breakfast in this restaurant? Excuse me, could you tell me when they serve breakfast in this restaurant?
Can you help me with this?I was wondering if you could help me with this?
Which colour of car do you want?Can I ask you which colour of car you want?
When is the next bus going?Excuse me, do you know when the next bus is going?
Can you turn off the heating? It’s too hot.Would you mind turning the heating off? It’s too hot. 
Questions in English

Question tags

A question tag is a short phrase which we add to the statement or negative sentences to ask a question. They are very common in spoken English. A question tag consists of an auxiliary verb (positive or negative) and a personal pronoun. The most common patterns are:

 positive sentence – negative tag, or negative sentence – positive tag.

  • Your mother is a lawyer, isn’t she?
  • You can’t drive, can you?

More example sentences:

  • You are coming to the party, aren’t you?
  • They aren’t working this Saturday, are they?
  • Martha comes from Cambridge, doesn’t she?
  • You don’t like reality programmes, do you?
  • They will help us, won’t they?
  • You found out who killed the main character in the movie, didn’t you?
  • Mary wasn’t happily married, was she?
  • You’ve lost weight, haven’t you?
  • Let’s eat out, shall we?

Questions in English

Echo questions

An echo question is a short question similar to a tag question. We use it when we want to tell the person we’re talking to that we’re surprised by or interested in what they said and would like to know more about it. Unlike in tag questions, if the sentence is positive, the echo question is positive, too; and vice versa – if the sentence is negative, the echo question is negative.

  • “Peter is New Yorker.” “Is he?”
  • “I didn’t like the movie” “Didn’t you?”
  • “I’m afraid I can’t let you in, you’re late.” “Oh, am I?”
  • “We’re going on holiday in June” “Are you?”
  • “I won’t mention it again, I promise.” “Won’t you?”

Questions in English
Questions in English
Good vs well

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