What are questions? Most of the things we say are statements. Statements give information to the people we are talking to. Questions are different, because they don't give information, they ask for it. When we ask a question, the person we are asking needs to know firstly, that we are asking a question, and secondly what kind of information is required. We tell people that we are asking a question by changing the grammar and punctuation of our sentence, and when we are speaking, we change our inflection as well.
In English, inflection is changing the ending of a word or the way that we say the word. For questions, we say the end of the sentence in a slightly different tone, raising the pitch of our voices so that the end of the sentence sounds higher. If the sentence is only one word, and we say this in a higher pitch then this is also a question.
Here 'Yes?' means 'What do you want?'
We can also use this kind of inflection to show that we are not sure about our answer.
Question: Where is Susan?
Answer : In the kitchen.
Said in a normal voice this is a statement.
But said like this it is a question, because we are not certain that Susan is there.
This inflection is indicated in written punctuation by a question mark, which is why you sometimes see it in sentences that do not look like normal questions – for example when someone answers a phone by saying 'Hello?'
Grammatically, we show that we are forming a question by using inversion. Inversion is when we change the word order of a sentence to show that it is not a normal statement.
The most basic inversion is of subject with auxiliary. If you read the grammar section of lesson two of this course (present simple) you will know that all verbs have an auxiliary, even if the auxiliary 'do' is sometimes left out.
They (do) like football.
To make a question, you invert the auxiliary (do) with the subject (they) and get this:
Do they like football?
If the sentence contains a modal, we invert that.
You would like to play football.
Becomes 'Would you like to play football?
If the sentence has a modal and an auxiliary, we invert the modal only
Fred might have done that.
('Fred' is the subject, 'might' is the modal 'have' is the auxiliary 'done' is the main part of the verb, 'that 'is the object)
We make the question by inverting the modal to get:
Might Fred have done that?
We use the verb 'to be' as we would an auxiliary.
That is your house.
becomes Is that your house?
These questions on the previous page are 'simple questions' because they only allow the answers 'yes' or 'no'. To obtain more information, we need to use question words. Question words are the first word of a question, and are followed by the rest of the question. The grammar and word order of the question are the same as for a simple question.
Are you happy? can be answered by 'yes' or 'no'
but Why are you happy? is asking for a reason.
Other question words are:
What – asking for information about a thing
Who – asking for information about a person
Where – asking for a place
When – asking for a time
Which – asking about one of many
How – asking for a method.
Sometimes we only need to ask the question word, though it is more polite to make a complete sentence.
Jake is having a party.
Just solve that problem
(Remember you can also use 'what?' so show that you did not hear what was said, but again, it is not a very polite usage.)
You can also ask for more information about a part of a statement by repeating the words you would like more information about.
Robert's taking his mother in his car.
Yes, she is staying with him this week.
Robert's taking his mother in his car.
Didn't you know? He's got a new car.
These are used to keep a conversation going. You reply to question tags with 'Yes' or 'no'. To form a question tag, you use the auxiliary, modal or the verb 'to be' in the main sentence, and follow it with the subject pronoun. If the main statement is positive, the question tag should be negative, and if the statement is positive, the question tag is negative.
Question tags are really easy, aren't they?
'Question tags' is the subject, and the sentence uses the verb 'to be'. Because the subject is a plural noun, the subject pronoun is 'they' and because the verb 'to be' is the present simple plural form 'are' the question tag is "aren't" followed by 'they'.
These are questions that the speaker does not really expect to be answered. They are used to make the speech more dramatic, and to get the listener's attention.
Guess what? Sally phoned! The speaker does not give time for you to guess – the 'guess what' just means 'Interesting news!'
Do you think I'm an idiot? Of course I knew that! This is a forceful way to say 'I would be stupid if I did not know that.'
Multiple part questions are when there are several different kinds of information that you want, so you ask for all the information in a single question.
Who are you and what do you want?
When did he come and why didn't you call me?
You can see that each question is really two separate questions joined by the linking word 'and'. Therefore each part has the normal grammar of a direct question.
These are statements, usually of two clauses that include a question word, but which are not really questions. Because they are not questions, you should not construct them using the grammar of questions.
I don't know where I was that day.
If this was a question, the second clause would be 'Where was I that day?', but because it is a statement 'was' and 'I' are not changed around, and there is no question mark.
So do you understand questions? They are easy, aren't they? Would you like to try some exercises next? But why am I asking? Of course you would, wouldn't you? Good luck!