Asking Questions

For some of you, this will be a good review, but for others, this information will be new. Asking questions in English can be confusing because the order of the words changes, and sometimes new words are added. The trick is to know the complete verb. That will help you decide how to form your question. We will start by looking at yes/no questions, and then we will add question words (who, where, what, when, why, how).

“Be” Questions

If the verb in your question is “be,” start with the correct form of “be” for your subject and time, and then add the subject and finish the question.

BE + subject + noun/adjective/prepositional phrase?

  • Is she your teacher? (3rd person / present tense)
  • Was he your brother? (3rd person / past tense)
  • Are you excited? (2nd person / present tense)
  • Were you in class yesterday? (2nd person / past tense)
  • Am I pretty? (1st person / present tense)
  • Was I supposed to meet you? (1st person / past tense)

Modal Verb Questions

If your question has a modal verb, put the modal verb first, then the subject, then the base form of the main verb. Then finish the question. Modal verbs include:

  • can
  • could
  • shall
  • should
  • must
  • will
  • would
  • may
  • might

MODAL + subject + base verb +…?

  • Should we go to the park?
  • Could you help me with a project?
  • Might she be sick?
  • Will I have to talk to her?
  • Would they like some coffee?
  • Can he speak German?
  • Will you be busy tomorrow?

Auxiliary Verb Questions

Auxiliary verbs are similar to modal verbs. The difference is that modal verbs are always followed by base verbs, but auxiliary verbs are not. Auxiliary verbs usually help us understand when an action happens. Possible auxiliary verbs include:

  • have (have/has/had) – used in present perfect and past perfect
  • be (am/is/are/was/were) – used in present continuous and past continuous
  • do (do/does/did) – used in present simple and past simple when the main verb is not “be”

Present perfect and past perfect questions use some form of “have” followed by a subject and a past participle.

HAVE + subject + past participle +…?

  • Have you seen my glasses?
  • Has she visited New York before?
  • Had you met him before yesterday?

Notice that “be” can be a main verb or an auxiliary verb. If there is a “be” verb in your question, it usually goes at the beginning.

BE + subject + noun/adjective/prepositional phrase?
BE + subject + verb-ing +…?

  • Are you my dance instructor? – In this question, “be” is the only verb. It is not an auxiliary verb. This question is in the present simple tense.
  • Is he dancing right now? – In this question, “be” is an auxiliary verb, and “dance” is the main verb. This question is in the present continuous (progressive) tense.

If a question in a simple tense (present simple or past simple) has a verb that is not “be,” the question should use some form of “do.”

DO + subject + base verb +…?

  • Do you like cookies?
  • Did you go to the grocery store?
  • Does he have a sister?

Questions With More Than One Auxiliary Verb

Some verb forms have more than one auxiliary verb. When you make a question with those forms, just put the first auxiliary verb first, then the subject, then the rest of the verb form.

1st AUX + subject + other words in verb form +…?

  • Have you been living here for 10 years?
  • Will you have been living here for 10 years next month?
  • Will you be doing anything tomorrow afternoon?
  • Has she been drinking?

Information Questions

When you know how to form yes/no questions, asking for more information is easy. All you have to do is add a question word to the beginning of a yes/no questions. Here are the same questions we asked earlier with wh- words added to ask for more information:

  • How is she your teacher?
  • Why are you excited?
  • When were you in class yesterday?
  • Where was I supposed to meet you?
  • When should we go to the park?
  • How could you help me with a project?
  • Why might she be sick?
  • When will I have to talk to her?
  • Where would they like some coffee?
  • How can he speak German?
  • Where have you seen my glasses?
  • Why has she visited New York before?
  • Where had you met him before yesterday?
  • How are you my dance instructor?
  • Why is he dancing right now?
  • Why do you like cookies?
  • When did you go to the grocery store?
  • What has she been drinking?

Subject Questions

Some questions don’t have a subject after the verb because we are asking about the subject. For example, someone is playing music. I don’t know who, so I want to ask.

  • Who is playing music?

Notice that there is no subject between is and playing. That’s because we don’t know what the subject is. We are asking the question about the subject. For these questions, we put the words in normal sentence order, and “who” or “what” simply takes the place of the subject in question. Here are some more examples:

  • What is making that noise?
  • Who wants pizza?
  • What smells so good?
  • Who told you that story?
  • What has been eating the vegetables in my garden?
  • Who will meet me at the airport?
  • What can make my life easier?

Video Explanation

In this video, a teacher will explain these ideas again. After you watch, try to write some questions in the comments section.

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