Questions and tags
To ask a question in English you must usually use one of the auxiliary verbs (be, do, have) or a modal verb such as can, will, may. If you are expecting a yes/no answer, then the question starts with the auxiliary or modal. Here are some examples:
- Is she Japanese?
- Do you like German food?
- Can you play chess?
- Have you seen Miho?
- Must I go to school tomorrow?
- Did you know the answer?
- Is she coming to your party?
- Will you be able to help me?
If you want more information than a simple yes/no answer, you must ask a question starting with one of the following question words: what, where, when, why, which, who(m), whose, how. In this kind of question you also normally use an auxiliary or modal:
- What did you say?
- Where does she live?
- When can you play chess?
- Why must I go to school tomorrow?
- Which book have you borrowed?
- Who has taken my calculator?
- Whose bag is this?
- How did you know the answer?
* Note that questions starting with the question words what/who/whose do not need an auxiliary verb in the simple present or past. For example: What happened? Who knows the answer? Whose parents came to Open Day?
The questions what, which, whose are often followed by a noun (before the auxiliary/modal). The question how is often followed by an adjective. Look at the following examples:
- What time must we be there?
- What kind of music do you listen to?
- Which painting do you like the best?
- Whose parents are coming to the meeting tomorrow?
- How long have you lived in Germany?
- How much money do you have?
- How far is your house from the school?
Do a quiz on question words.
We quite often want to ask a question containing a preposition. In spoken English the preposition is usually put at the end of the question, as in the following examples?
- Who did you go to the party with?
- Who are you talking to?
- What are you talking about?
- Where is Miho from?
- What did you say that for?
- What kind of place do you live in?
Note: It is possible to begin questions with the preposition. ESL students should avoid this, however. Even in written English such questions sound too formal: With whom did you go to the party? From where is Miho?
A special type of question is the tag that English speakers put at the end of many statements. The tags in the following sentences are shown in red:
- It's a lovely day today, isn't it?
- You live in Frankfurt, don't you?
- Miho can't speak German, can she?
- You haven't seen Miho, have you?
- His parents are very old, aren't they?
- You will remember to call me, won't you?
Tags are very common in spoken English, and have many functions. One of the common functions is to start a conversation or help keep it going. The two basic rules about tag questions are:
- If the statement is negative, the tag must be positive. If the statement is positive the tag must be negative.
- You don't like me, do you?
You won't tell him my secret, will you?
He doesn't speak German, does he?
You're coming to my party, aren't you?
She's really good at chess, isn't she?
You haven't done your homework, have you?
- The tense of the tag is determined by the tense of the auxiliary/modal verb of the statement that precedes it. If the statement does not use an auxiliary/modal (i.e. it is in the present or past simple tense), then the auxiliary to do must be used.
- She comes from Korea, doesn't she?
- You like heavy metal music, don't you?
- He got top grade in the math test, didn't he?
- I really messed up, didn't I?
A problem with tags is getting the intonation right. Basically, it depends whether or not you are expecting an answer to your question. Look at these two examples:
- He's from Italy, isn't he? (flat or falling intonation - short pause before the tag - more a statement than a question, not really expecting an answer)
- He's from Italy, isn't he? (sharply rising intonation - longer pause before the tag - a question expecting an answer)
Do a quiz on question tags.