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How to Form English Questions

Regardless of level, anyone who learns English as a foreign language will occasionally make mistakes when forming questions.


HahnEnglish Keyla with a Question

Many languages use identical structures to form questions and statements (for example, Spanish, French, and Russian). Speakers of these languages form questions by simply changing the intonation of a normal statement. When writing, the presence of one or more question marks indicates a question.


In English, this isn’t the case. All written questions do include a question mark at the end, but word order changes too. By memorizing a simple formula, speakers can form question sentences correctly 99% of the time. But before getting started, it’s important to understand the following terminology related to English grammar:

Term:

Definition:

Examples:

Question Words:

​Use these words to indicate the interrogative (question) form.

They generally begin with “WH,” although this is not always the case.


-Who -Why

-What -How

-Where

-When


Auxiliary Verb:

Secondary verbs that modify the meaning of a sentence by providing more information (often about time/verb tense).

-Should -Would

-Do -Could

-Be -Have


Subject:

The primary noun (person, place, thing, or concept) within a sentence.

-He -We -They

-She -It -You

-I

Main Verb:

The action that the subject performs.

Walk, talk, eat, sleep, etc.

The terms listed above are different parts of speech. Check your understanding of these concepts by identifying the subject, auxiliary verb, and main verb in the following sentence:

  • I should eat lunch.

Correct answers are listed below. To reveal them, highlight the black lines with your mouse:


Here, the subject is “I.” The auxiliary verb is “should,” and the main verb is “eat.” If your answers were correct, you’re ready to move on. If not, no worries; before continuing, see the additional practice exercises linked at the end of this article.


Are you ready for the next example? Great! Identify the question word, subject, auxiliary verb, and main verb of the following question sentence:

  • Where should I eat lunch?

The auxiliary verb, main verb, and subject remain the same as in the original example. The difference is the addition of the question word, “where,” at the beginning of the sentence. See the table below for reference:

Where

should

​I

eat lunch

QW

(Question word)


A

(Auxiliary)


S

(Subject)

M

(Main verb)

Note the order of these parts of speech. This is the correct word order for nearly all questions: question word, auxiliary verb, subject, main verb. To remember this formula, we use the acronym QWASM.


QWASM describes the word order for most questions, but sometimes our formula changes. For example, statements in the present simple don’t use question words or auxiliary verbs. Look at the example below:

  • She eats.

When converting a statement to a question in the present simple, just add an auxiliary verb:

  • Does she eat?

To form a complex question, add both an auxiliary verb and a question word:

  • When does she eat?

In other words, the present simple tense may follow the QWASM formula, but the question word (QW) isn’t always needed. It’s also worth noting that the main verb always takes the infinitive form in question sentences. The auxiliary verb (do or does) is the only part of speech in the sentence that gets conjugated.


Now that you’re an expert when it comes to crafting questions, are you ready to practice? Links to additional exercises are below.

Topic

Resource

Nouns or Verbs?

(Subject/Main Verb Identification)

Auxiliary Verbs

Forming Questions



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