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How to form questions in English

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You ask questions all the time. You may need directions to get somewhere, permission to do something, or an opinion before buying a new piece of clothing. The thing is: learning how to ask questions in English is necessary for any ESL student! It is even more important that you can form questions in English correctly. This article teaches you everything you need to know about asking questions in English. Keep reading for examples of questions and answers using the WH question words, the verb to be, and more.


How to form questions in English

In English, information questions depend on using specific words — these are what we call WH question words. We have nine WH question words: what, when, where, which, who, why, whom, whose, and how.

Some questions are formed with adverbs. These ask for information about time, place, reason, or manner. The four words which function as adverbs are: when, where, why, and how. Adverbs describe a verb or an adjective. Think about this example: where did you read that? In this sentence, where is asking from what source did the information come. Other questions are formed with pronouns. These ask about people or things. The five words that are pronouns are: what, which, who, whom, and whose.

With most questions, you can use the following structure to form them properly. The first structure is for the verb ‘to be.’ The second structure is for all other verbs.


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In many questions with pronouns, the question word functions as a subject. Think of the question ‘who sings that song?’ The subject is ‘who’ and ‘sing’ is the verb. ‘That song’ is the object. This is important because occasionally, questions that start with a pronoun will not use an auxiliary verb. Look at this example:

  • Who sings that song? (who does sing that song?)
  • Whose child made that? (whose child did make that?)


Now let’s take a look at each of the question words. We will explain the situations in which we use each of them and we will also give some examples of questions and answers we can have when using those question words. 


What

We use ‘what’ to ask specific information about something. Here are a few examples of questions and answers.

  • What is your mother’s name? Her name is Lisa.
  • What time is it? It’s half past four.
  • What are you doing now? I’m watching TV.


When

‘When’ is used to ask questions about time. Here are a few examples of questions and answers.

  • When will Julie arrive at the airport? She will arrive around 1 p.m.
  • When can I pick up from school? I will be ready at 3 p.m.
  • When is his birthday? His birthday is October 30.


Where

We use ‘where’ to ask something a place or the position of something. Here are a few examples of questions and answers.

  • Where is my phone? I think it’s on the table.
  • Where is Paris? Paris is located in France.
  • Where will you travel to next summer? I’m thinking about going to the Bahamas.

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Which

We will use ‘which’ whenever we have options to choose from. Here are a few examples of questions and answers.

  • Which pizza did you order: the pepperoni or the margherita? I ordered the pepperoni pizza.
  • Which Harry Potter character is your favorite? Hermione is my favorite!
  • Which do you prefer: the red coat or the brown one? I prefer the brown one.


Who

‘Who’ is used to ask questions about someone who is the subject of a sentence, that is, someone who does an action. Here are a few examples of questions and answers.

  • Who is that guy? Oh, that’s Adam. He’s a friend of mine.
  • Who are you visiting this weekend? I’m visiting my grandma.
  • Who is your best friend? My best friend is Laura.


Whom

‘Whom’ is used to ask questions about someone who is the object of a sentence, that is, someone who receives an action. Here are a few examples of questions and answers.

  • Whom do you believe? I believe in Tom. 
  • Whom are you going to invite? I am going to invite Sam and Michael.
  • From whom did you get this information? I got it from Joanna.


Whose

We use ‘whose’ to ask questions about something that belongs to someone. Here are a few examples of questions and answers.

  • Whose car is this? I think it is John’s car.
  • Whose umbrella did you take? I took my sister’s umbrella.
  • Whose book is this? It’s Michael’s book. 


Why

‘Why’ is used to ask about a reason, an explanation. Here are a few examples of questions and answers. It is common to answer a ‘why’ question with ‘because’.

  • Why are you sad? Because I’m having some problems at home. Don’t worry!
  • Why is she traveling alone? Because her husband is sick.
  • Why were you late to the meeting? Because my alarm didn’t go off. I’m sorry.


How

‘How’ is used to ask about manner, condition, or quality.

  • How far: ask about distance

          How far is your hometown?

          Not very far, it’s about 50 km from here.

  • How long: ask about length (time or space)

          How long have you been dating Taylor?

          We have been dating for two months.

  • How many: ask about the quantity of countable nouns

          How many books do you have?

          I guess I have about 100 books.

  • How much: ask about the quantity of uncountable nouns

          How much coffee did you make?

          There’s enough for two cups.

  • How old: ask about age

          How old is your brother?

          He is 21 years old.


Other tips

Besides the WH question words, there are other ways to ask questions in English. Keep reading for explanations and examples.


Yes or no questions with ‘to be’

We can ask yes or no questions with the verb ‘to be’. To do this, we need to invert the order of the affirmative sentence we create with the verb ‘to be’. Check out the table below

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