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Everyday English 1
Everyday English 1

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4.3 Answering questions

Different situations involve different kinds of question. Answering questions appropriately means understanding the situation and working out what kind of response to give. In familiar settings this may be easy, but when you’re with people you don’t know so well, you may have to weigh things up quite quickly.

You might be asked questions in all sorts of different settings, from children asking ‘Why?’ to being asked for information by the police.

Types of answers

Questions take on different forms. Sometimes the person wants a very short, simple answer like ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or they want you to choose between very few options like tea or coffee. These are called closed questions.

At other times, people ask questions in order to let you speak. These are questions like ‘What do you think about …?’ These are called open questions.

Sometimes a question may pose as both. The question ‘How was your day?’ could be given a one-word answer or could be given a full answer. It is up to you to work out what kind of answer the person wants.

Activity 27 Open or closed?

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Look at the questions below and decide whether each is open or closed.

1. Did you come by train?

a. 

Open


b. 

Closed


The correct answer is b.

2. What are you doing at the weekend?

a. 

Open


b. 

Closed


The correct answer is a.

3. How many children do you have?

a. 

Open


b. 

Closed


The correct answer is b.

4. Are you married?

a. 

Open


b. 

Closed


The correct answer is b.

5. Are you enjoying your course?

a. 

Open


b. 

Closed


The correct answer is b.

6. What did you think of the film?

a. 

Open


b. 

Closed


The correct answer is a.

7. Shall we go out for lunch?

a. 

Open


b. 

Closed


The correct answer is b.

8. Where were you last night?

a. 

Open


b. 

Closed


The correct answer is a.

Deciding how to respond

Sometimes it’s easy to know what kind of answer you should give. This is particularly true when you’re with people you know well. You will be used to communicating with each other.

The same is true of very formal situations. You know what kind of answer to give when, for example, a nurse is asking about your medical history. The context tells you how to answer.

You can be asked the same question in different contexts and be expected to give very different answers.

For example, think about the question ‘How are you?’ What kind of responses might you be expected to give?

  • Sometimes ‘How are you?’ can just be another way of saying ‘Hi’ and you’re expected to say no more than ‘Fine, thanks’.

  • If a doctor asks you how you are, you are expected to tell them what’s wrong.

  • If you’ve been unwell and your friends ask how you are, you’re expected to reply that you’re getting better or that you’re fine now.

  • If someone knows you’ve been having a hard time, they’re expecting you to tell them about your situation or how stressed you feel.

  • Someone you’re very close to may want you to share quite deeply about your feelings.

  • If you meet someone in the street and they say ‘How are you?’ it might be totally inappropriate to start telling them all your troubles!

Activity 28 Responding appropriately

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Think of different people who might ask you what you did last night. What would be an appropriate response to each? Try to think of three examples.

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Discussion

You could be asked by your family or friends. You might give a short answer or you might tell them in detail.

You could be asked by a colleague at work, especially if you look a bit tired! You would probably give them an honest but short account.

You could be asked by a police officer. You would immediately wonder why they wanted to know and you might be very wary of the answer you give. You would be careful to be accurate about times and places.