Chapter 5-9: Question Forms
Question Forms and Verb Tense
Elsewhere on this website you can find an explanation about each verb tense. Those same explanations provide details on how to form questions in each of those verb tenses. Use the website's menu or the search field to choose the verb tense that you would like to form a question in for complete details.
On this page, you will find some general information on forming questions; however, it is not specific to any given tense.
Seven Common Ways of Asking Questions
There are seven common methods to asking questions in English:
The five W's
Indirect & Reported
Also known as "yes-no,""closed," and "closed-ended" questions, the "inverted" question style is perhaps the easiest method of forming a question in English. When you ask someone one of these questions, you'll usually get a "yes" or "no" response with no additional information.
These questions typically start with a verb¹, including auxiliary verbs² and modal verbs³.
To create one of these questions, move the verb to the start of the sentence. If the sentence has an auxiliary or modal verb, that is the verb you must move. Sometimes verbs are implicit, but not stated.
Here are some examples that use the question inversion technique in a variety of verb tenses:
The Five W's
Actually, it's the Five W's + H. These question words are who, what, when, where, why, and how. The answer the speaker is looking for is a noun.
Very often, these words are placed at the beginning of the sentence, and the word order must be inverted.
When inquiring about the subject of the sentence, word order is not inverted; for example, the question for "Jade is cooking" becomes "Who is cooking?"
If you're asking about the object of a sentence, replace it with a question word and, if necessary, move the subject between the auxiliary verb and main verb. For example, the question for "Jade is cooking eggs" becomes "What is Jade cooking?"
Here are some examples of Five W questions:
Indirect & Reported Questions
So far on this page, questions have been direct. Anglophones use indirect questions when they don't know someone very well and they would like to ask them a question politely.
You should know that there are two major groups of indirect questions:
Indirect questions embedded in another question—an interrogative sentence that ends with a question mark. For example, "Could you tell me where the washroom is?"
Reported questions that are embedded inside a message—a proclamation that ends with a period. For example, "He is asking where the washroom is."
Before you can construct one of these questions, you must know two things:
what the direct question would have been; and
what an affirmative potential answer might have been, expressed as a complete sentence.
Here are some examples:
To construct an indirect or reported question, use the following 3-stage formula:
[indirect starter phrase] + [5W's / if / whether] + [a statement]
Indirect starter phrase: start by using a question starter phrase; for example:
5W's / if / whether: after your starter phrase, you will add some question words. You may not use "do," "does," or "did" at this stage of the formula. Your choice will depend on the context:
If you are looking for a "yes-no" answer, use "if" or "whether."⁴
If you want details, use a 5W question word.
You're done! If you used an interrogative starter phrase, make sure that your sentence ends with a question mark. If you used a reported starter phrase, make sure that your sentence ends with a period (a "full stop").
These examples took the previous statements and turned them into indirect (interrogative) and reported (declarative) sentences:
Did You Notice?
The word order for both interrogative and declarative indirect questions is the same as a statement (subject-verb), not a question (verb-subject).
Questions where someone is "reporting"⁵ on the fact that someone else has a question (or if the person is referring to themselves similarly) become declarative sentences.
Tag questions are used to confirm whether something is true or not. They can also be used to encourage a reply from someone. Unless they're used in formal speech or writing, negative tags are contracted (don't, doesn't, didn't, haven't, hasn't, etc.)
To construct a tag question, use the following 3-stage formula:
[Sentence] + , + [opposite form of the same verb used in sentence] + [subject pronoun]?
Canadian Anglophones may be the largest group of tag question users on the planet! In true Canadian spirit, they like to keep things simple. They just add the tag "eh?" to the end of their informal sentences in speech. Take a look at some typical questions you might hear only in Canada. Do you understand the cultural references in italics?
You really enjoy coffee and donuts over at Timmy's, eh?
I see you got a new tuque for this winter, eh?
It looks like it's going to cost us a toonie for admission, eh?
Negative questions are used to confirm something, to express personal opinion, polite requests, offers, annoyance, surprise, and complaints. It's no surprise that the negative question section follows indirect questions on this page. That's because they're similar. They both use negative questions, and they both tend to prefer the use of contractions, except on formal occasions.
To construct a negative question, use one of the following two formulae depending on whether the context is informal or formal:
[the verb "to be," a modal, or an auxiliary verb in the negative, contracted] + [subject] + [main verb] + [other information]?
[the verb "to be," a modal, or an auxiliary verb] + [subject] + not + [main verb] + [other information]?
Orders are often given in the imperative. The sentences have no visible subject, although the subject is understood to be the word "you." Since commands in the imperative can sometimes sound rude or impatient, people often form them as questions to soften the order. To formulate an imperative question, add "will you?" or "shall we?" as a suffix tag or place a modal auxiliary at the beginning of the sentence.
Speakers can use inflection in their voice to change the meaning of a sentence. When they use rising intonation toward the end of a sentence, they can turn a statement into a question to show disbelief, anger or to elicit a "yes / no" answer.
We are going to eat hot dogs.
We are going to eat hot dogs?