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Describing language
Describing language

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1.1 Asking questions

Questions come in two main types. The first is yes/no questions, also known as a closed question, where you probably expect to hear yes or no as an answer.

Can we park here?

Is this houmous home-made?

People might give longer answers to these questions, but fundamentally what the person asking is wanting here is a yes or a no. We make closed questions by swapping the order of the subject and verb. So the declarative this houmous is home-made becomes the interrogative is this houmous home-made? (When we write such questions down, we also use a question mark, which is another easy way to spot a question!) When we have an auxiliary verb or a modal auxiliary, it’s that component that moves to the start of the sentence, so we can park here becomes can we park here? (rather than park we can here?, which would have us sounding like Yoda again!).

The other main type of question is called a wh- question or open question. These questions tend to start with one of the words who, where, when, what, why or how, which comes immediately before the verb:

Who told you that?

How do you make pancakes?

What these questions have in common is that they are looking for information – someone’s name, an explanation, etc. You can’t just grunt yes or no to these types of questions – you are expected to come up with more than that. That’s why open questions are favoured by interviewers (on TV or in hiring panels).

You can also turn a declarative into a question by adding a form of auxiliary DO and (sometimes) changing the form of the main verb:

They like to host parties > Do they like to host parties?

They watched the sun rise > Did they watch the sun rise?