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How to ask questions in English

5 min read
12 February 2021
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Asking questions is one of the most crucial skills in a language. It can help you move a conversation forward and is a great way of encouraging native speakers to teach you new things. Knowing how to ask a question in English correctly will help you become more comfortable when speaking and writing. If you are interested in learning English, these sorts of things are good to study up on.

In English there are many different ways of asking a question. Let’s take a close look at three of the most basic types.


1. Verb fronting questions: yes or no

These questions are easily formed from simple declarative sentences in English. They mostly occur when an adjective is featured in the original declarative sentence.

Declarative: Benjamin is asleep.

Question: Is Benjamin asleep?                  

Answer: No, he’s awake.

These sentences are called verb fronting questions because they are formed when the main verb is brought to the front of the sentence. The words ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ will always be part of the reply in a verb fronted question.


2. Subject-auxiliary inversion questions: could, should, and do

Despite their complicated name, these questions are also very simple to make. They are built from declarative sentences that contain an auxiliary verb:

Declarative: We could go to the supermarket.
Question: Could we go to the supermarket?       

Answer: Yes, of course we could.       

This time, instead of bringing the main verb to the front of the sentence, we’re moving the auxiliary verb. Like last time however, these questions are usually answered with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

Remember that sometimes in English, the auxiliary verb is implicit – that means that it may not be spoken in the sentence, but in grammatical terms it is still there. Check out the example below:

Declarative: I like reading.
Question: Do you like reading?       

Answer: Yes, I read all the time.

The auxiliary verb ‘do’ is implicit in the sentence ‘I (do) like reading’, so it still appears when the question is formed.


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3. Question word questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how

These are the most grammatically complex questions and building them requires a two-step process. First, we build a subject-auxiliary question from the declarative sentence:

Declarative: David did eat an apple.
Inversion: Did David eat an apple?

Next, we turn the object phrase of the sentence into a question word and bring it to the front of the sentence:

Question: What did David eat? 

Answer: David ate an apple.

Note that in our completed question, the main verb is found at the very end of the sentence. When replying to a ‘W’ word question, the auxiliary verb is usually not needed and the main verb carries the sentence tense.

Take a look below for some more examples:

Declarative: Barbara did go to the bank.
Question: Where did Barbara go?    

Answer: Barbara went to the bank.

Finally, when writing in English, remember to always finish your question with a ‘?’ question mark. Otherwise your reader might not realize that you’re asking a question!

Unlike some languages, there is no space between the final word and the question mark.


Check as well this article

How to use small talk in English


Have fun exploring all the different types of question formation in English. There are many complicated ways of asking a question, but now you know the basics you can always ask someone…

“What does this mean?”

Good luck!


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