Knowing how to ask questions in English is a key skill. Most of us ask questions all the time, whether we want permission to eat the last slice of cake, to keep on top of the latest gossip in our neighborhood, or just to know what time a movie starts. For people who are learning English, getting the structure right can be tricky, so we’re going to talk about how to form questions in English and give you lots of examples.
What is a question?
Before we get started, we need to know the difference between a statement and a question. When we ask questions, we are requesting information about something. Statements give information. Take a look at this exchange:
Question: How are you?
Statement: I’m fine, thanks.
There are different ways to ask questions depending on the information we want to get. We’re focusing on yes/no questions and wh- questions.
The first type of question we’re looking at are yes/no questions. These are also called closed questions because the answer is either yes or no (or maybe!). To form a yes/no question, we use a modal verb or a form of be, have, or do at the beginning of the question.
To know which of these verbs to use, you need to think about the statement. If the statement contains the verbs be, have or a modal verb, you put that word before the subject. This is called inversion. The structure is: modal/auxiliary verb + subject + verb.
|Statement||Question: Auxiliary/modal verb||subject||verb|
|You can swim.||Can||you||swim?|
|She is happy.||Is||she||happy?|
|They might come.||Might||they||come?|
|You would enjoy it.||Would||you||enjoy||it?|
When the statement does not contain any of those verbs, we add a form of the verb ‘do’ at the beginning of the statement and we use the base form of the verb.
You like parrots. Do you like parrots?
He walks home. Does he walk home?
They eat meat. Do they eat meat?
Here are some examples of yes/no questions in other tenses.
|Present continuous||We are working.||Are we working?|
|Present perfect||You have seen that play.||Have you seen that play?|
|Past simple||Kerry went home.||Did Kerry go home?|
|Past continuous||They were chatting.||Were they chatting?|
|Past perfect||He had left.||Had he left?|
|Future simple||James will help.||Will James help?|
|Future continuous||We will be eating then.||Will we be eating then?|
|Future perfect||I will have finished by then.||Will I have finished by then?|
Wh- questions are open questions. The answer is not yes or no. To form wh- questions, we use a question word and we invert the subject and the verb. The wh- question words are:
Here is the structure: Wh- word + auxiliary/modal verb + subject [+ verb].
|Wh- word||auxiliary/modal verb||subject||verb|
Here are some examples of wh- questions in different tenses.
|Present simple||Who do you spend the most time with?|
|Present continuous||What are you doing right now?|
|Present perfect||Where have you been?|
|Past simple||Why did you leave?|
|Past continuous||How were they feeling?|
|Past perfect||When had you last visited them before you went yesterday?|
|Future simple||Who will Claire ask to help her?|
|Future continuous||Where will we be living in two years’ time?|
|Future perfect||When will you have finished that book?|
Ready to start asking questions in English?
We hope you feel more confident about asking questions in different tenses in English now. You should be able to find out what your best friend did last night, ask your dog what she’s chewing (she might not answer), and find out what your classmates are up to that night, all using the right grammatical structures.
Laura is a freelance writer and was an ESL teacher for eight years. She was born in the UK and has lived in Australia and Poland, where she writes blogs for Lingoda about everything from grammar to dating English speakers. She’s definitely better at the first one. She loves travelling and that’s the other major topic that she writes on. Laura likes pilates and cycling, but when she’s feeling lazy she can be found curled up watching Netflix. She’s currently learning Polish, and her battle with that mystifying language has given her huge empathy for anyone struggling to learn English. Find out more about her work in her portfolio.