Chapter 5-9: Question Forms

Grammar > Using Verbs > 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:

  1. Inversion

  2. The five W's

  3. Indirect & Reported

  4. Tag

  5. Negative

  6. Imperative commands

  7. Voice intonation

Question Inversion

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:

• I skate. > Do I skate? > Yes, I skate. Yes, I do.

• I can go. > Can I go? > Yes, I can go. Yes, I can.

• The puppy is happy. > Is the puppy happy? > Yes, it is.

• He dances > Does he dance? > Yes, he does.

• She is sad. > Is she sad? > Yes, she is sad.

• I am studying. > Am I studying? > Yes, I am.

• It is sleeping. > Is it sleeping? > Yes.

• I have eaten. > Have I eaten? > Yes, I have eaten.

• I studied. > Did I study? > Yes, I studied.

• He is going to go. > Is he going to go? > Yes, he is.

• She will be cleaning. > Will she be cleaning? > Yes.

• They have eaten. > Have they eaten? Yes, they have eaten.

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:

Who is singing? > Dale is singing.

What will you watch? (You will watch what?) > I will watch Superman.

When did I fall? (I fell when?) > You fell yesterday.

Where are you? (You are where?) > I am at the mall.

Why will we do this? (We will do this why?) > We will do this to become qualified.

How do I make an omelette? (I make an omelette how?) > Break some eggs.

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:

Direct Questions

1. Do they skate?

2. Can I go?

3. Is the puppy happy?

4. Is it sleeping?

5. Who is singing?

6. What will you watch?

7. When did I fall?

Affirmative Answers

1. Yes, they skate.

2. Yes, I can go. Yes, I can

3. Yes, it is.

4. Yes, it is sleeping.

5. Sawyer is singing.

6. You will watch Superman.

7. I fell yesterday.

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:

Indirect, interrogative starter phrases: Do you know _____? Do you have any idea _____? Does he happen to know _____? Does she think _____? Can you tell me _____? Could you tell me _____? Is there any chance _____? Would it be possible _____? Would you mind telling me _____? Would it be possible? Have you any idea _____? I'd be interested to hear _____? Have you any idea _____? She has no idea _____? He would like to know _____? I'm not sure _____?

Reported, declarative starter phrases: I wonder _____. He was wondering _____. She will be wondering _____. I am asking _____. He is asking _____. She asked me _____. They would like to know _____. He would like to know _____.

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:

Interrogative Sentences

1. Do you know if they skate?

2. Do you have any idea when I can go?

3. Can you tell me if it is happy?

4. Is there any chance it is sleeping?

5. Would you mind telling me who is singing?

6. Have you any idea what you will you watch?

7. Could you tell me when I fell?

Declarative Sentences

1. I wonder if they skate.

2. He was wondering if I can go.

3. She will be wondering if it is (/will be happy).

4. He is asking if it is sleeping.

5. She asked me who is singing tonight.

6. They would like to know what you will watch.

7. He would like to know when I fell.

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

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]?

Verb in the Main Sentence is in a Simple Tense

Form the question tag with the verb "to do."

• You like the cake, don't you?

• Elliot bakes cakes, doesn't he?

• She hardly ever bakes, does she?

• They rarely eat, do they?

• You enjoyed the cake, didn't you?

• Elliot baked cakes, didn't he?

• She hardly ever baked, did she?

• They never ate, did they?

Verb in the Main Sentence is in a Future Tense

Tag with "'to be' + going to" or the word "will"

• You will like the cake, won't you?

• You are going to like the cake, aren't you?

• You will not like the cake, will you?

• You are not going to like the cake, are you?

• Elliot will bake cakes, won't he?

• Elliot is going to bake cakes, isn't he?

• Elliot will not bake cakes, will he?

• Elliot is not going to bake cakes, is he?

Verb in the Main Sentence is in a Continuous Tense

Form the question tag with the verb "to be."

• You are baking the cake, aren't you?

• Elliot is baking the cake, isn't he?

• She is not baking, is she?

• They are rarely eating, are they?

• You were enjoying the cake, weren't you?

• Elliot was baking cakes, wasn't he?

• She was hardly ever baking, was she?

• They were never eating, were they?

Verb in the Main Sentence is in a Perfect Tense

Form the question tag with the verb "to have."

• You have liked cake before, haven't you?

• Elliot has baked before, hasn't he?

• You have not liked cake before, have you?

• Elliot has not baked before, has he?

• By then, you had eaten all the cake, hadn't you?

• By then, Elliot had baked the cake, hadn't he?

• By then, you had not eaten all the cake, had you?

• By then, Elliot had not baked the cake, had he?

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

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]?

Contracted Negative Questions

• Wouldn't you like another drink?

• Isn't he coming?

• Hasn't the package arrived yet?

Polite, Negative Questions

• Would you not like another drink?

• Is he not coming?

• Has the package not arrived yet?

Imperative Questions

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.

Imperative Questions with a Suffix Tag

• Pass me the salt, will you?

• Let's go, shall we?

• Be careful, will you?

Imperative Questions Starting with a Modal

• Would you take off your shoes, please?

• Would you mind speaking more quietly?

• Could we have our keys now?

Voice Intonation

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?

5-9-14 Question Forms - Example Speech of 'We are going to eat hot dogs'.mp4


External Resources

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¹ This is often the verb "to be." For example, "do," "does," "is," and "are."² These are “helping” verbs that come before the main verb.³ These are words such as "can" or "would."⁴ How do you know when to use "if" and when to use "whether?" Always use whether—unless you are presenting a "condition." For example, "Could you tell me if I need a textbook?" means the teacher should ONLY speak to you in the event that you should indeed require a textbook. This is different from "Could you tell me whether I need a textbook?" In this case, it means the teacher MUST tell you something, regardless of the situation. They will provide a reply 100% of the time. Often, people add the word "or not" at the end of this sentece. For example, "Could you tell me whether I need a textbook or not?"⁵ Many teachers refer to these types of questions as "reported questions." For simplicity, both indirect and reported questions are discussed here.
Attribution information for this page: Jamie BridgePage keywords: types of questions, question forms, inverted questionsPageID: eslid34370