Why do we ask?
Would you like some tea or coffee? We ask (and are asked) many questions everyday. The range is wide - we start from the simplest ones; i.e. asking about sb’s day or just like in the example above? More complex questions regard eg. work and decisions that are not made on an everyday basis. Well, it should take more time to tell that we prefer tea to coffee, than to give a more detailed answer. Today, we will try to focus on both types of questions.
The very first question we should ask each other is - Why do we actually ask questions? According to some research (American scientists, surely), we ask questions out of habit (How are you?), to hold a conversation (How are you?, again) or just out of curiosity. Where the matter of asking questions is indeed interesting, we should rather focus on forming such questions.
Skipping the topic of ‘why’ for a moment, let us focus on a category of Yes/No questions. Those ones are asked when we need a clear message that bears the meaning. While preparing to form a question like this, think about the right tense first. If this is a general present question, use Present Simple, etc.
So, it should go like this: Do you like sweets? (we ask someone if they like sweets in general, eg. when we want to make sure a bar of chocolate is appropriate for someone). Do you live here? Do you have any questions?
In other tenses, the structure of a question also has to represent the proper tense. See:
- Are you coming to the cinema with us tonight?
- Were you studying the whole night yesterday?
- Did you go to the vet with your cat?
- Have you planned your wedding yet?
- Will you please help me with those shopping bags?
As you see, the Yes/No questions consist of:
Operator (of the correct tense) + Subject (person) + Verb + the rest
Practice 1: Try to identify the tenses in the examples above. Then, mark the characteristics of the tenses that helped you to identify them.
Note: Keep in mind that Yes/No questions do not have to be answered with ‘Yes/No’ only! You are free (in some cases even supposed) to tell more, especially when your answer is ‘No’.
Asking about details
Sometimes, we are not satisfied with Yes/No answers only. We would like to know some details, not a quick response. Therefore, we should ask our questions properly. Let’s use the examples of the following interrogative pronouns: Who, What, Where, Which, Why, Whose, When and How.
A question that starts with one of the above suggests that a short answer would be irrelevant to it as we ask for specific information. See:
- Who is that guy over there?
Either you know him, or not - you need to provide a longer answer compared to those from the previous chapter.
- That’s my cousin’s husband.
- I don’t know, I have never seen him before.
- Why are you asking? - classic option, when the answer is actually another question asking for details.
The structure in forming this type of questions is similar to the previous one; just add the correct pronoun at the beginning.
Pronoun + Operator + Subject + Verb + the rest
- What were you thinking when you entered the frozen lake?!
- How much time do we have left?
- Where did you go on holiday last summer?
- Whose backpack is that?
- When will I see you again?
Practice 2: Form your examples of questions, use each interrogative pronoun twice. Try to use different tenses while forming questions.
Asking questions is an important part of learning as it is a basic form of communication. The guide above is rather a summary. If you’re interested in exploring the topic in more detail, leave us a message and join our language course here.