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How to Ask Questions

A Variety of Ways to Ask Questions in English

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There are many ways to ask questions in English. It's important to understand the situation when deciding how to ask questions. In other words, is the question you want to ask a polite request? Would you like to confirm information you already know? Are you gathering details about a subject?

How to Ask Direct Questions

Direct questions are the most common type of question in English. Direct questions are asked when asking for both simple and complex information. To begin with, here is a guide to the structure of direct questions:

(Question Word) + Auxiliary + Subject + Verb Form + (objects) + ?

Examples:

When do you get to work?
Do you like fish?
How long have you been working on this project?
Where are those ties manufactured?

How to Ask Yes / No Questions

Yes / No questions refer to simple questions you ask to receive either a yes or no as a response. Yes / No questions do not use question words and always begin with the auxiliary verb.

Auxiliary + Subject + Verb Form + (objects) + ?

Examples:

Does he live in New York?
Have you seen that film?
Is she going to come to the party?

How to Ask Subject and Object Questions

Look at the following example sentence and questions:

Jason likes playing golf.

What does Jason like playing? - ANSWER golf
Who likes playing golf? - ANSWER Jason

In the first question, we are asking about the OBJECT. When asking about the object, use direct question construction beginning with a question word followed by the auxiliary verb.

Wh? + auxiliary + subject + verb?

Who does he follow online?

In the second question, we are asking for the SUBJECT of the action. When asking subject questions, do not use the auxliary verb. The 'Wh' question word plays the role of the subject in the question.

Wh? + (auxiliary) + verb + object?

Who understand this problem?

NOTE: Remember that the present simple or past simple do not take the auxiliary in positive sentence structure.

Examples:

Who enjoys playing tennis?
BUT
Who is coming to the party next week?

Common question forms for SUBJECT questions:

Which

Which bicycle goes fast?

What kind of

What kind of cheese tastes mild?

What sort of

What sort of tea costs very little?

Who

Who goes to school here?

How to Use Question Tags to Ask Questions

Another type of common question in English is the question tag. Many languages such as Spanish also use question tags. Use question tags to confirm information that you already know, or think you know. This form is used in conversation and when checking that you have understood something.

Construct a question tag by making a statement followed by a comma and the OPPOSITE (positive -> negative, negative -> positive) form of the appropriate auxiliary verb.

Examples:

You're married, aren't you?
He's been here before, hasn't he?
You didn't buy the new car, did you?

Indirect Questions

When we want to be more polite we often use indirect question forms. These questions ask the same questions as direct questions, but are considered more formal. When using an indirect question, introduce the question with the introductory phrase followed by the question itself in positive sentence structure. Connect the two phrases with the question word or 'if' in the case the question is a 'yes', 'no' question.

Construction Chart

Introductory phrase + question word (or if) + positive sentence

Examples:

I was wondering if you know the way to the nearest bank.
Do you know when the next train leaves?

Here are some of the most common phrases used for asking indirect questions.

Do you know...
I wonder / was wondering ....
Can you tell me...
I'm not sure...
I don't know...

Examples:

Do you know when the next train leaves?
I wonder when he will arrive.
Can you tell me where he lives?
I'm not sure what he wants to do.
I don't know if he is coming.

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