Asking Questions

asking questions in English

There are several ways to ask questions in English depending on the information sought:

YES / NO QUESTIONS

These are questions that we expect to receive a yes or no as an answer, rather than an explanation or longer answer. 

The can be formed using:
– auxiliary verbs
– modal verbs

YES / NO QUESTIONS WITH AUXILIARY VERBS 

The auxiliary verbs to be, to do, to have are used to ask questions when we expect ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as an answer.

The construction is:
auxiliary verb + subject + [not] + main verb

asking questions

Present

asking questions yes no present

Past

asking questions yes no past

Future

asking questions yes no future

YES / NO QUESTIONS WITH MODAL VERBS

Using modal verbs to ask yes/no questions the construction is:
modal verb + subject + [not] + main verb in base form

asking questions modals

Can you tell me the time please?
Must I do all the exercises?
May I not have a piece of cake?
Might he come later?
Couldn’t I go?
Shouldn’t she rest?

Remember – modal verbs are a form of auxiliary verbs and include:
can, could, may, might, ought to, must, should, shall, will, would

Review Modal Verbs

WH- QUESTIONS

Wh- words are a range of words used to form questions. Some but not all begin with wh-, and each has a specific use. They may be used with auxiliary verbs, or with modal verbs.

what….?   for an object or thing      
where..?   for a location or place
when…?   for a date or time
why…..?   for a reason 
who…..?    for a person
which…?   for a choice from a defined group   

wh- words also include how questions:
how…?               for a method or technique
how much…?     for an uncountable nouns or a price
how many…?     for a countable noun
how often….?     for frequency
how ‘adjective’?  for a quality i.e. how tall, how heavy.

WH- QUESTIONS WITH AUXILIARY VERBS

For wh- question words the construction is:
wh- word + auxiliary verb + subject + [not] + verb

asking questions wh- words

Present

asking questions wh- words present

Past

asking questions wh- words past

Future

asking questions wh- words future tenses

For who, which or what, if they are the subject of the sentence the auxiliary verb is not used
Which toy is your favourite?
What time is the meeting?

WH- QUESTIONS WITH MODAL VERBS

Using modal verbs to ask wh- word questions the construction is:
wh- word + modal verb + subject + [not] + main verb in base form

asking questions wh- words with modal verbs

When can he come?
Why should I not play?
Why wouldn’t she go?

Remember – modal verbs are a form of auxiliary verbs and include:
can, could, may, might, ought to, must, should, shall, will, would

Review Modal Verbs

TAG QUESTIONS

A tag question is a statement followed by a short question tag on the end which asks if the listener agrees with the statement.

The tag uses the auxiliary verb or if there is no auxiliary then the verb to do is commonly used

The construction is:
statement sentence + tag 

If the statement has an auxiliary verb, including modal verbs, this is used to construct the tag:
It’s freezing, isn’t it?
We are going now, aren’t we?
They were leaving yesterday, weren’t they?
She has been to China, hasn’t she?
You will call me when you get home, won’t you?
He must be so tired, mustn’t he?

If the statement does not contain an auxiliary verb, we often use the verb to do:
Max loves dogs, doesn’t he?
They work at the bank, don’t they?
He wasted so much time, didn’t he?

Note:
when the statement is positive, the tag is negative
when the statement is negative, the tag is positive

That is nice, isn’t it?
That is not nice, is it?

INDIRECT QUESTIONS

Indirect questions are used when we want to be more polite or formal.

An introductory phrase comes before the question:

introductory phrase + question word + positive statement with verb after the subject

Some introductory phrases include:

Could you please tell me…
I would be interested to know…
Would you mind telling me…
I wonder if you could tell me….
Do you know…     

Usual form 

Where is the Post Office? 
What time is the next bus? 
When is the carnival? 

Indirect  form

Would you mind telling me where the Post Office is please?
Do you know what time the next bus is please?
Could you tell me when the carnival is?

Note the verb comes after the subject, as in a normal positive statement –
… the Post Office is…
… the next bus is…
… the carnival is….

PRACTICE EXERCISES

1. Are these statements True or False
The auxiliary verbs to be, to do, to have are used to form questions when we expect the answer to be yes or no.
When is used to form questions related to time.
A negative question tag is added after a positive statement to form a question.
Indirect questions are a more formal and polite way of asking questions.

2. Complete the questions using the appropriate wh-word 
_____ is your name?
_____ is your favourite artist?
_____ did you start learning English?
_____ are you from?
_____ do you work?

3. Turn these statements into questions using question tags.
We’re having fish for dinner tonight.
It’s due to snow tomorrow. 
That’s a picture of you when you were young.
Jim was digging the garden.
She has written three books.

Answers
1. all true
2. what, who, when, where, where
3. aren’t we, isn’t it, isn’t it, wasn’t he, hasn’t she

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