How to ask questions in English
Published on August 25, 2022 / Updated on January 5, 2024
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.
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.
|Question: Auxiliary/modal verb
|You can swim.
|She is happy.
|They might come.
|You would 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.
|We are working.
|Are we working?
|You have seen that play.
|Have you seen that play?
|Kerry went home.
|Did Kerry go home?
|They were chatting.
|Were they chatting?
|He had left.
|Had he left?
|James will help.
|Will James help?
|We will be eating then.
|Will we be eating then?
|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].
Here are some examples of wh- questions in different tenses.
|Who do you spend the most time with?
|What are you doing right now?
|Where have you been?
|Why did you leave?
|How were they feeling?
|When had you last visited them before you went yesterday?
|Who will Claire ask to help her?
|Where will we be living in two years’ time?
|When will you have finished that book?
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.