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Asking Questions and giving answers are the basics of great English conversation – or conversation in any language!
But are you asking questions correctly, in English?
Many of my students can get their message across, even without the correct word order and intonation… But it makes for a bumpy, awkward conversation!
In this lesson, I’m going to help you improve the STRUCTURE of your questions, so they flow smoothly, clearly and automatically!
And you can start enjoying English conversations!
The good news is that English questions are fairly consistent and follow a clear structure. There are four main parts that you need to keep in mind.
1. Question word (who/what/where/when/how/why) – question phrase (how long, how often)
2. Auxiliary (or helping) verb (be/do/have … also modal auxiliary verbs = can/should/may/will)
3. Subject (I/you/we/they/he/she/it)
4. Main verb (eg: play, eat, buy etc)
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Asking questions and giving answers are the basics of great conversation, in English and in any language! But, are you doing it correctly in English?
Many of my students can get by, they can get their message across even without the correct structure word order or intonation. But, it makes for a very bumpy awkward conversation!
In this lesson, I want to help you improve the structure of your questions, so that they flow smoothly, clearly, and automatically! And finally, you can start enjoying English conversation!
It’s important to spend more time improving your Q&A skills! Have you heard that before? Q&A. It stands for questions and answers. You might have heard it somewhere Q&A.
First up, let’s review question structure in English. Now, the good news is that English questions are fairly consistent and easy to follow because they have a clear structure. There are four main parts that you need to keep in mind.
The first part: question words.
Then number two is your auxiliary verb or your helping verb: be, do or have. It can also be a modal auxiliary verb like can or will or should.
Thirdly, you need your subject. I, you, we, etc.
And your main verb, any verb!
These are the four things that you need and you need them in that order, every time!
Okay, let’s try with some examples, ready?
Question word, auxiliary, subject, main verb!
What do you like about it?
Question word, auxiliary, subject, main verb!
How long have you been living there?
Question phrase, auxiliary, subject, main verb!
Okay, so what about this type of question?
Do you live in England?
In this question we don’t have a question word but we do have all of the other parts of the English question structure. We don’t have the question but we do have the auxiliary verb (do), the subject (you) and the main verb (live).
It’s as simple as that, every time!
This type of question is perfectly acceptable too. You don’t need to have a question word.
There are two types of questions in English, closed questions, the questions which start with an auxiliary verb and open questions, questions which start with a question word or question phrase. Keep that in mind for a few minutes.
Questions that start with an auxiliary verb or a helping verb are closed questions because they require just a simple answer, yes or no. The detail is not really important.
Do you like the soup?
No, I don’t.
Can you help me for a minute?
Yeah, I can.
Have you been to Italy?
No, I haven’t.
Are you enjoying the movie?
Yeah, I am.
Another good tip here is the connection between the question and the answer. See how the answer directly responds to the information in the question.
Are you? Yeah I am. No, I’m not.
Have you? No, I haven’t. Yeah, I have.
There are lots of patterns in English questions, so if you start paying attention to the detail, you’ll really be able to improve your grammar. Questions that start with a question word are open questions and they’re questions that require more information in the answer.
Not just ‘Have you been to Italy?’ but ‘When did you go?’
I went last year!
How long did you stay there?
I stayed there for 3 months.
Why did you go there?
I went to study and learn Italian!
A good rule of thumb is that closed questions are great for confirming information about people.
Do you live there?
Once you confirm the answer then you can use open questions to learn more about them, their experiences, their opinions, their recommendations.
How long does it take to drive there?
What’s the best restaurant to try?
What’s the weather like at this time of year?
What’s the best thing about living there?
Again, let me show you that the question structure always stays the same: question word, auxiliary, subject, main verb.
So, the most obvious difference between open and closed questions is the question word. But there is another noticeable difference and that’s intonation. Intonation is the way that your voice rises and falls when we speak.
The intonation of your question depends on the type of question that it is. For closed questions, so questions with auxiliary verbs, your intonation goes up at the end.
Do you like them?
Are you hungry?
Open questions that require more information in the answers usually go down in intonation.
Why do you like them?
What do you want to eat?
An important thing to think about all the time, but especially when you’re trying to use questions correctly, is making sure that your subject and your auxiliary verb match. When you’re using an auxiliary verb in English questions, and in regular sentences too, your main verb stays in the infinitive form and your auxiliary verb needs to change, depending on the subject and also the tense.
Do you live in London?
The auxiliary verb matches the subject. If our subject changes to ‘he’ then we need to change our auxiliary verb to match it.
Does he live in London?
Have they tried it?
Has she tried it?
Where was he living before?
Where were they living before?
So, the relationship between the auxiliary verb and the subject is one that you need to pay close attention to.
Now, I want to warn you, in real conversation things get loose, fast and sometimes grammatically incorrect. Most native English speakers can be a bit cheeky and a bit lazy at times, especially when they’re speaking! So, you need to listen for key pieces of information plus intonation and try to just go with the flow.
One very common example of this is with closed questions, ones that start with an auxiliary verb, they can be shortened!
So, the question ‘Do you want to get something to eat?’ can become ‘Want to get something to eat?’
The intonation is important here so that you know that it’s question. The intonation goes up because it’s a closed question.
Want to get something to eat?
Okay, well be sure to download my cheat sheet and audio guide to help you practice using questions correctly. You can get it right here.
So, there was a lot to take in that lesson and I’ll definitely link to some other video lessons that I’ve made that will help you practice auxiliary verbs, subject verb agreement and question intonation. Right here, here and maybe I’ll put on here too!
Be sure to subscribe to my channel by clicking the red button, just over there!
And I release new lessons and worksheets every week. So, I hope to see you in the next lesson! Bye for now!