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When we start to learn a new language, we generally focus on talking about ourselves. We talk about who we are, where we come from, what we do etc. However, for effective, interactive, communication to take place we need to move beyond this stage and learn to ask questions. This is not only important for good grades in English in the classroom and for successful conference calls in the office but through question-making we can also learn more about Anglophone cultures and even make new, English-speaking, friends.
Forming questions in English is not difficult but you need to learn some basic rules.
Pay attention to who or what is the subject of the question
Who is learning English? (who is the subject to the verb)
What did you learn in class today? (what is the subject of the verb)
Who do you want to bring to the cinema on Saturday? (you is the subject of the verb)
Pay attention to the preposition in forming the question as this will be repeated in the answer
Where did you go to? I went to the bathroom.
What are you talking about? I am talking about my English classes.
Who is the present for? The present is for Juan.
In English, many questions and answers use the same words (in a different order)
Have you a big family? (I have a big family)
Did you go to class today? (I did go to class today)
Is Maria your sister’s friend? (Mary is my sister’s friend)
There are two main types of questions in English:
Closed Questions and Open Questions
Closed questions are easiest because they only need an answer that is yes or no.
They generally require the auxiliary verbs to do, to be and to have.
Did you go to Chile last week? = (No) I did not.
Are you cold? =(Yes) I am.
Have you 5 million pesos? = (No) I have not.
When forming a closed question you must switch the subject with the first auxiliary verb:
Do you understand English? = I do understand English.
Is it sunny today? = It is sunny today.
Did you eat pasta today? = I did eat pasta today.
Have you been drinking coffee? = I have been drinking coffee.
Has she lived in Buenos Aires for three years? = She has been living in Buenos Aires for three years.
Use the auxiliary verb ‘do’ to form questions:
Do you work hard? = I work hard
Do you live in Argentina? = I live in Argentina
Did you speak fluent Spanish? =I speak fluent Spanish
Open questions require more than a yes or no response. They demand an opinion, explanation or description.
Open questions are formed around a set list of interrogatory words. These are what, when, where, which, who, whom, how, why and whose.
What time is it? It is 10pm
When is she leaving Buenos Aires? She is leaving Buenos Aires on Thursday
Where are you going on Saturday? I am going to London on Saturday?
Which one do you want, the black scarf or the red scarf? I want the red scarf
Who did you take to the dance on Friday? I took my sister’s friend Jane to the dance on Friday.
Whom should she call about the matter? She should call the floor manager about the matter.
How do I look? You look great.
Why did he call me Saturday? He called you Saturday because he wanted to borrow your book.
Whose t-shirt is he wearing? He is wearing my brother’s t-shirt.
Not all of these interrogative words need nouns as question words.
What, which and whose are examples of these.
What class is this? What is this class?
Which scarf is yours? Which is your scarf?
Whose is this book? This is whose book?
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