Question Formation in EnglishThere are two basic types of questions in English. 1. 'Wh' questions ask for specific information and start with a question word. What Which When Where Whereabouts Why Whose How The most common question structure is: Question word + Auxiliary Verb + Object or Main Verb. 'Wh' questions usually have a FALLING INTONATION. Tense Present simple Present continuous Past simple Past continuous Pres. perf. simple Pres. perf. continuous Passive will / would Can / could Who will be there? How could you? No verb Whose is this? Verb What do you do? Where are you going? When were you there? When did she do that? Who were playing? Why haven't you done your homework? Which report have you been working on? Whereabouts were they found? How will they get here? What could it be? Answer I'm a teacher. To the bank. Last night. Flamengo & Vasco. Because I didn't have time. The one you asked you asked me to. On the side of the mountain. By train. It might be a UFO.
'What' can be followed by a noun and is usually used when there is an unlimited number of possibilities. 'Which' is normally used with a limited number of choices. Eg. What size shoes do you take? Which one do you like the most?
When asking about people it is better to use which. Eg. Which astronauts have landed on the moon? 'How' can combine with adjectives and adverbs. How many (countables), How much (uncountables), How tall (height), How old (age), How big (size), How fast (speed), How often (frequency), How many times (number), How long (duration), How far (distance) Prepositions often come at the end of a question. Eg. What are you looking at? Which channel is the film on? What are you afraid of? What schools did you go to? Who did you dance with? What is it about? Who did you give it to? Who was it written by? Who is he getting married to? What did you do that for? How long did you stay for? Who did you get that from? Short reply questions with prepositions are also possible in English. Eg. What with? What about? What for? Who to? Who from? Where to? Subject Questions Most questions ask for the object of a sentence. SUBJECT VERB OBJECT Lee Oswald shot President Kennedy. Who did Lee Oswald shoot? ANSWER = OBJECT (President Kennedy). With the question words WHO, WHAT & WHICH, if the answer is the SUBJECT, there is NO AUXILIARY 'DO, DOES, DID and the WORD ORDER IS THE SAME AS A STATEMENT. Who shot President Kennedy? ANSWER = SUBJECT (Lee Oswald). Here are some more examples of subject questions: SUBJECT (+ VERB + OBJECT)
Who broke the window? Peter (broke the window) Who discovered America? Columbus (discovered America) Which actors starred in Casablanca? Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall (starred in Casablanca). Which switch operates this machine? The red switch (operates the machine). What happened to you last night? Something terrible (happened to me last night). In contrast, here are the object questions for the examples above: What did Peter break? Which continent did Columbus discover? Which actors did Casablanca have in it? What does this switch operate? What did you do last night? 'Like' in questions 'LIKE' can be used as a VERB for preference and as a PREPOSITION for description. What does she like doing at the weekend? (VERB) = What does she enjoy doing? What is she like? (PREPOSITION) = Describe her character (and maybe her appearance). What does she look like? (PREPOSITION) = Describe her appearance ONLY. NOTE! 'How is she?' REFERS ONLY TO HEALTH & WELL-BEING. Eg. How is your mother? = Is your mother in good health.
What would you like to do next weekend? (VERB) = What do you want to do? What is London like? (PREPOSITION) = Give me your general impressions of London. What was the weather like? (PREPOSITION) = Describe the weather to me.
What was the food like? (PREPOSITION) = What did you think about the food? What were the shops like in London? (PREPOSITION) = Tell me about the shops in London. What did it look like? (PREPOSITION) = Give me a physical description of it.
2. 'Yes/No' questions ask for a positive or negative answer.
A Yes/No question is a closed question, meaning that it has one of two answers, yes or no. It asks whether something is true or not, i.e., whether the original positive sentence is valid. A question element needs to precede the subject in order to form this question. The question element is formed according to the following rule: The Y/N Question Rule: To form a yes/no question in English, transfer the first auxiliary verb that appears before the main verb in the positive sentence to the position before the subject. If there is no auxiliary verb, as in the Present Simple and Past Simple, then you add one (in both these cases, the auxiliary verb do). Note: When an auxiliary verb (including modals) is used, the main verb is not inflected (no s or ed ending), meaning that either the base form or past participle is used. The verb to be uses a different yes/no question pattern Review the following table for examples of yes/no questions in English. Question Element Do Present Simple Does Past Simple Did Am Present Progressive Is Are Was Past Progressive Were Have Present Perfect Has Present Perfect Have+Subject+been Progressive Has+Subject+been Past Perfect Had Past Perfect Had+Subject+been Progressive Tense Examples Do I play ? Does she play ? Did I play ? Am I playing ? Is he playing ? Are we playing ? Was I playing ? Were they playing ? Have you played ? Has she played ? Have you been playing ? Has she been playing ? Had they played ? Had she been playing ?
Tense Future Simple Future Perfect Conditional Conditional perfect Modals
Question Element Examples Will Will I play ? Will+Subject+have Will he have played ? Would Would she play ? Would+Subject+have Would she have played ? Can Can I play ? Should Should I play ?
They normally start with an AUXILIARY or MODAL verb and are followed by SUBJECT + (VERB) + OBJECT 'Yes/no' questions normally have a RISING INTONATION. Negative 'Yes/No' questions are used: To show surprise: Didn't you hear the bell? I rang it four times! In exclamations: Doesn't that dress look nice! (= That dress looks very nice) When we expect the listener to agree with us: Haven't we met somewhere before? (= I think that we have) Be careful with the answers to negative questions: Didn't Dave go to Canada? Yes. (He went there.) No. (He didn't go there.)
Reply questions Reply questions are formed of Auxiliary/modal verb + Subject and are used to show interest or surprise. They always have a strong RISING INTONATION. Eg. A: He has a problem. A: I've finished! A: I can't do this. B: Does he? B: Have you? B: Can't you? A: Didn't you see his hand shaking? A: It's been done before. A: He'd like it.
B: Was it? B: Has it? B: Would he. Question tags Question tags have the same form as reply questions but are used either to ask for confirmation or a response. If a positive statement is made, the question tag is negative. Eg. You're Brazilian, aren't you? If a negative statement is made, the question tag is positive. Eg. You haven't finished yet, have you? Although the negative word not is not in the sentence, the sentence can be negative. Then we use the "positive" question tag. He never goes out with his dog, does he? have is a main verb in the sentence -> two possibilities We have a car, _____? We have a car, haven't we? We have a car, don't we? mostly British English mostly American English We use will with the imperative (Simple Present). Open the window, will you? Don't open you books, will you? We use shall after Let's. Let's take the next bus, shall we? Auxiliary must We must be at home at 8 pm, mustn't we? Yes, we must. No, we needn't.
There are TWO TYPES of question tag. 1. This tag has a falling intonation and means "I'm sure I'm right, confirm it for me".
2. A question tag with a rising intonation means "I'm not sure, can you tell me if I'm right?"
With this type of question tag, it is better not to use contracted auxiliary and modal verbs. Eg. You have brought the tickets with you, haven't you? (not "You've brought..."). NOTE! After 'Let's....' the question tag is 'Shall we?' Eg. Let's go out for a meal, shall we? After the imperative the question tag is 'Will you?' Eg. Open the door for me, will you? Don't be late, will you? A positive question tag can follow a positive statement when expressing interest or surprise. Eg. Oh, You think he'll win, do you?