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A question from Huong Tran in Vietnam:

My teacher teaches me to make questions as follows:

- Yes/No question
- QW as Object
- QW as Subject
- QW as Complement
- QW as Adverb
- QW as Object of Preposition.

But I can't understand. Could you explain us clearly?

Thank you very much

Forming questions


Ask about English

Rachel Wicaksono answers:

Hello Huong Tran, and thank you for your question about questions in English!
As your teacher says, these are the main forms taken by questions in English. And I'll talk first about 'yes/no questions' then move on to 'wh-questions', where the question word is the subject or the object of the question. I'm going to use 'drinking coffee' in all my examples because the coffee I drank in Vietnam was the best I've ever tasted!

So, I'll start with 'Yes/No questions'. Here are two examples:
A. Do you like coffee?
B. Yes, I do.

A. Have you tried Vietnamese coffee?
B. Yes, I have.

In the first example, we use the auxiliary verb 'do' to form the question.
A. Do you like coffee?
B. Yes, I do.

The word order is:
auxiliary verb + subject + verb + object.

Other possible auxiliaries are 'be' and 'have'. For example:
A. Are you going to have a cup of coffee?
B. Yes, I'm addicted to it!

My second example already has one of these possible auxiliaries, 'have', so we can use this, instead of using 'do'.
A. Have you tried Vietnamese coffee?
B. Yes, I have.

Again, the word order is:
auxiliary verb (have) + subject (you) + verb (tried) + object (Vietnamese coffee).
'Have you tried Vietnamese coffee?'

OK, moving on now to 'wh- questions'?
This type of question is introduced by one of the question words:
'what', 'where', 'when', 'why', 'who', 'which', 'whose' - and 'how' is also included in this group. 'Wh- questions' are information questions, so we can't simply answer them with a 'yes' or a 'no' - unlike the 'yes-no' questions we just looked at.

Your teacher mentions 'wh-questions' in which the question word is the subject, or part of the subject. And an example of this type of question is:
A. Who wants more coffee?
B. Yes, please!

When the question word is the subject - 'who' in this example - the auxiliary 'do' isn't needed and the word order is:
subject (who) + verb (wants) + object or complement (more coffee).
A. Who wants more coffee?

The question word can also be part of a subject complement, as in this example:
A. Whose cup of coffee is this?
B. It's mine.

This question means, 'Who is the owner of this cup of coffee?' The question word 'whose' is part of a subject complement, 'whose cup of coffee'.
'Is' is the verb and 'this' is the subject.

In all the other types of question mentioned by your teacher, the word order is: question word + auxiliary ('have', 'do', 'be' or a modal, like 'can') + subject + verb. I'll give you some examples next...
Here's one where the question word is acting as an object:
A. Who did you meet there?
B. I met an old friend.

In this example, 'who' is the question word and 'did' is the auxiliary.
'Who' is referring to the object of the sentence, the person I met.

In the next example, the question word is acting as an adverb, meaning that it is giving us more information about the verb 'get':
A. Where can I get another cup of coffee?
B. In that café over there!

The word order is still:
question word (where) + auxiliary (can) + subject (I) and verb (get).
'Where can I get another cup of coffee?'

Finally, here's a question - again with the same word order - in which the 'wh-word' is the complement of a preposition:
A. Where did you get that coffee from?
B. Vietnam, of course!

In spoken English, the preposition (in this example, the preposition is 'from') is usually separated from its complement.

So that's my answer to your question about questions. It sounds like you've got a good teacher. Perhaps we'll meet someday, somewhere in the world - and have a cup of Vietnamese coffee!

Rachel has taught English and trained teachers in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Japan and the UK. She is an IELTS examiner and a trainer and assessor for the Cambridge ESOL Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. Currently, Rachel works at York St John University where she is Head of Programme for the MA English Language Teaching and the International Foundation Certificate.


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