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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?

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