Questions – Form
In order to make a question, we need to invert the subject and the auxiliary (be, have, etc.) or the modal verb (can, could, should, etc.). If there isn’t a modal or auxiliary verb in the sentence, we use do/does with the present or did with the past.
Questions followed by a preposition
In informal or spoken English, when a question word needs a preposition, we put the preposition at the end of the question (after the verb or after verb + object if there is an object). We don’t use the preposition at the beginning.
- What are you talking about?
- Who do you live with?
In more formal English, prepositions can be used before question words. Compare:
- Who did she talk to? (Informal)
- To whom did she talk? (More formal)
Note that we use whom instead of who after a preposition.
We use a negative verb in questions to ask the listener for confirmation about something that we think is true.
- Don’t you have work to do?
- Haven’t you already been there?
We can also use a negative question to show surprise or annoyance.
- Didn’t you like the film? I think it was amazing.
- Haven’t you finished your composition? I gave you two weeks to do it.
When we use a negative question without the contracted form of the verb, we should put not after the subject.
- Did you not enjoy the trip?
- Has he not returned your calls yet?
When we ask about the subject of a sentence with question words such as who, what, which, or how much/many, we don’t use do/does or did after the question word (we don’t invert subject and auxiliary or modal verb).
- Who called you last night?
- Which company won the contract?
- What scares you most in life?
- How many people went to class yesterday?
Indirect or embedded questions.
We normally use indirect questions when we want to be more polite. We begin the question with expressions such as Can you tell me …? Could you tell me …? Do you know …? Would you mind telling me … ?
- What time is it? (direct question)
- Could you tell me what time it is? (indirect question)
In indirect questions the order is subject + verb.
- Do you know where I can find a bank? (NOT …
where can I find)
- Can you tell me what time the shops close? (NOT …
what time do the shops close)
There are other expressions that follow the same rule:
- I don’t know what he is doing here.
- I wonder when he will find the truth.
- I’m not sure when I can come.
- I’d like to know where you left the documents.
For yes-no questions (when there is NO question word), we can use both if or whether.
- Do you know if/whether he’ll be here soon?