How to make questions
Role of questions
Are you really good at asking questions
in fluent English? If you’re not, do you think you’ll be able
to have a satisfactory chat or conversation in English with
Suppose you’re at a party or in a gathering.
Or suppose that you’re travelling on a train. What will make
a conversation go on? You see, it’s mainly your capacity to
ask questions. If you’re not able to ask questions, you’ll
find it difficult to keep up conversations, and the conversations
you have will come to a stop quickly — or you’ll find yourself
forced back into the position of a silent listener. Others
around you will go away with a wrong impression about you
— that you do not know English.
Again, if you want to effectively carry out
a number of communicative functions in English, you need to
be good at asking questions in fluent English.
Suppose you want some information from someone
or somewhere. What alone will help you get the information
you want? Only your skill in putting questions. Isn’t that
so? Nothing else. If you ask someone about something, they’ll
give you some kind of a reply. That may not be the kind of
information you want. Or that may only be part of what you
want. You’d then want extra information or the right information,
or clarifications or explanations. Which means that you have
to put questions — more questions, the right kind of questions.
Or suppose that you want to ask somebody
for something, or to offer something to somebody, or to make
a polite suggestion. Or suppose that you want to buy something
from somewhere. Do you think you’ll be able to do these things
effectively in English if you aren’t fluent in asking questions
Mind you, most non-native speakers of English
are handicapped in one way: In schools and colleges, they
never had much opportunity of learning to make ‘questions’.
They only had the opportunity of learning to make ‘answers’.
And of course, generally speaking, the answers could not be
in the form of questions. The answers had to be in the form
Many non-native speakers of English started
facing the problem of having to make questions only when they
left school or college. They came face to face with this problem
only when they found themselves having to SPEAK in English
— in real-life situations.
Difficulty in framing questions
Most educated people are able to produce
questions correctly in writing. True. But when they
have to produce questions in speech, they falter and fail.
Sometimes, they end up asking such un-English
questions as “What you’re doing?” (instead of “What are you
doing?”), “Where you’ve put it?” (instead of “Where have you
put it?”), “Why she’s standing there?” (instead of “Why is
she standing there?”), “When you came?” (instead of “When
did you come?”), “How she is managing?” (instead of “How is
she managing?”), “Whether he is coming?” (instead of “Is he
coming?”), “Whether you will do it?” (instead of “Will you
do it?”), “Whether he can come?” (instead of “Can he come?”),
At other times, they end up muttering nonsense.
Or they become nervous and embarrassed and keep mum — or they
fall back on their mother tongue.
Even very highly-educated people can be heard
to make these sorts of distortions. Yes, they are distortions,
because they do not represent natural or genuine English.
This is not the kind of English that native speakers of English
speak. It’s artificial English.
Of course, you may already know all this.
You may already know that this is not the right way to frame
questions. But the problem is this: If the right question
patterns are not firmly fixed in your mind, you’re sure to
slip up and utter questions with “un-English” patterns.
So it’s now time for us to pay close
attention to question patterns.
You know, making questions is one of the most important spoken
English skills. One of the most difficult skills, too. Of
course, many people are likely to be thinking like this: “Oh!
That is quite easy. I can make any number of questions without
difficulty”. Perhaps you can. But the problem is not simply
of making questions. The problem is of making them while you’re
speaking — on your feet.
Mind you, you’ll never be able to learn “right”
question patterns from a list of “wrong” and “right” samples.
The thing to do is to get the “right” question patterns imprinted
on your mind — so they don’t fade away. They’ll then
remain there, and act as the framework for all the questions
you utter. And soon, it becomes second nature to you to use
those patterns and to produce the ‘right’ sort of questions.
Chief reason for the difficulty
Here’s the chief reason for the difficulty
in asking questions in the right way:
The way you should arrange your words when
you utter a question — that is different from the way
in which you arrange your words when you utter a statement.
That is, when you’re uttering a simple sentence (a single
independent clause) in the form of a statement, you order
your words in one way. But when you’re uttering a simple sentence
(a single independent clause) in the form of a question, you
order your words in another way.
For example, when you say, “John is a good
boy”, you’re uttering a statement, and not a question.
(Grammatically speaking, you’re using a declarative
structure here). But when you arrange the words in a different
order and say “Is John a good boy?”, you’re uttering a question.
(Grammatically speaking, you’re using an interrogative
structure here). A basic difference between a statement (declarative
structure) and a question (interrogative structure) is this:
A statement normally starts with a Subject element and is
followed by a verb. But in questions, the Subject element
is pushed into another position. (We’ll soon look at how this
word-order reversal happens).
You see, simple sentences belong to four
syntactic classes, and each has a separate semantic function.
Here are the names of these syntactic classes (with the corresponding
semantic class name given within brackets):
• Declarative form (= Statements). • Interrogative
form (= Questions) • Exclamative form (= Exclamations) •
Imperative form (= Directives).
If you want to speak English fluently, the
right order of words must come easily and naturally — whether
you’re uttering a statement or a question or an exclamation
or a directive. The right word-order must come as second nature
to you, almost without thinking.
So the most important thing you should do
now is to get the patterns of questions in English fixed in
your mind and to get into the habit of uttering questions
in those patterns. You know, any advanced learner of your
level can easily achieve these goals through constant and
thorough practice — constant and thorough practice with a
sufficiently large collection of everyday questions.
And this sort of extensive practice is just
what you’re going to do. And you’re going to get large collections
of everyday questions that are sufficient for your purpose.
There are 3 major types of questions.
• ‘Yes-No’ questions. • Wh-word
questions. • Alternative questions.
‘Yes-No’ questions are questions that
expect ‘affirmation’ or ‘negation’ as a reply. The most common
word that expresses affirmation is ‘Yes’, and the most common
word that expresses negation is ‘No’. That is why these questions
are called ‘Yes-No’ questions. Here are a few examples of
• Is he a nice person? • Isn’t she coming
to the wedding? • Are there any objections? • Aren’t you
ready yet? • Doesn’t she like coffee? • Did you paint it
yourself? • Would you like an orange? • Can I come too?
• Hasn’t she been here often? • Can’t we do something about
As you can see from these examples, a yes-no
question starts with an auxiliary verb. Here’s a complete
list of the auxiliaries that are normally used to make yes-no