Comprehensive Guide to the Main English Question Types
The ability to ask a question is an essential skill every person should learn in childhood. Simple inquiries allow us to avoid misunderstandings, discover important information, or just become good listeners. To master this skill, knowing all types of questions in English and understanding how to use them properly is critical. So please, make yourself comfortable. We are fully prepared to guide you through this exciting topic.
Why Are We Afraid of Asking and Why We Shouldn’t Be
As you can see, even this title contains not one but two questions. But even though there are plenty of question words in English grammar, some people are still afraid of asking someone about something. So, before you learn everything about every form of a question in English, let us tell you the main reasons for this common fear.
- The embarrassment factor. Many people are terrified of looking foolish. And there is a common stereotype that asking a question immediately shows our interlocutors that we don’t know something, and somehow it reveals our ignorance.
- Lack of confidence. Those who lack confidence in themselves or their abilities can also hesitate to ask a question in English. It's mainly connected to the fear of being dismissed or not receiving a satisfactory answer.
- Fear of disrupting a conversation. It might not be as obvious as the two previous reasons, but it's still a widespread explanation for the fear of asking questions. Sometimes, people think that their inquiries can interrupt the flow of conversation. Hence, they prefer to avoid asking so as not to look like a nuisance.
- Negative experience. If you’ve ever been ridiculed or dismissed for asking a question in the past, you may be hesitant to do it again in the future. Some people can be quite impolite, negatively affecting many aspects of our lives.
These are pretty valid reasons, especially if you happen to be introverted. Yet, we still believe that different categories of questions are an integral part of any conversation. Despite the fear and anxiety, they can bring us many benefits. Here are just a few of them:
- Better understanding. As obvious as it is, asking questions can help us understand a topic or situation better. We can encourage others to share their thoughts and perspectives by making open-ended inquiries, leading to deeper insights.
- Building relationships. Asking questions is a crucial element of getting closer to other people. When we show our curiosity about one’s interests or experiences, we value and respect them.
- Solving problems. After facing a challenge (whether a work- or family-related issue), asking questions can help us identify root causes, brainstorm possible solutions, and make more informed decisions.
Also, asking different kinds of questions is a good sign of active listening. This way, you show that you are fully engaged in a conversation, making your interlocutor feel more confident and valued. Overall, asking questions is essential for effective communication, regardless of the topic, the person you are talking to, or the reasoning.
4 Types of Questions: In a Nutshell
After learning about the benefits of asking, you probably wonder – how would I know what question type to use if there are so many of them? Luckily, it's easier than you might think. There are only four main types of questions in English grammar. Let’s discuss every one of them.
Let's start with something simple. In this case, we'll talk about the most accessible questions. Such inquiries usually contain a predictable answer you must either confirm or deny. Usually, you only need to say a simple “yes” or “no.” Here's a structure of general questions:
Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Predicate + Object?
Depending on several factors, we can use various modal verbs. For example, to clarify present or past events, we mainly use different forms of the verbs “to do” and “to be.” To inquire about future-related situations, we use the verb “will.” The auxiliary verb “have” is suitable for forming the question about possession, experience, or actions in the past or present perfect tense. Here are some examples:
Do you like to drink coffee in the morning?
Have you ever been to Paris?
Did you see it?
Do you want to hang out?
Will you be here for Christmas?
Also, at the beginning of such questions, we can use modal verbs that express ability, permission, obligation, or advice. These are the words can, could, may, should, and must. Take a look at these examples:
Can I borrow your pen?
Should I call him?
May I tell you something?
Could you come here, please?
Must we go to the mall?
There are three appropriate answers to all these general English questions in grammar. The short one we’ve already mentioned at the beginning – just yes or no. The more extended form is:
Yes/no + Subject + Modal Verb (or Notional Verb)
Also, you can answer the question even more extensively. To do so, you need to repeat the inquiry, subtly changing the order of the words. Take a look at more examples of general questions and possible answers.
Q: Do you like ice cream?
A: Yes./Yes, I do./I like ice cream.
Q: Have you ever been to the USA?
A: No./No, I haven’t./No, I have never been to the USA.
Q: May I help you?
A: Yes./Yes, you may./You may help me.
This type, also known as “wh-questions,” is a sentence in English that begins with a question word (also called an interrogative word or wh-word) such as what, where, when, who, whom, which, why, or how.
Here is the structure of the special questions:
Interrogative word + Auxiliary Word + Subject + Predicate + Object?
These questions gather specific information or seek clarification about a particular aspect of something. They typically require a more detailed response than a yes/no question and often begin with an interrogative word followed by an auxiliary verb or the verb “to be” in the appropriate tense. Look at these examples:
What do you want for breakfast?
How old are you?
Where are you going?
What is your favorite color?
Who is your favorite actor?
Such questions require more extensive answers than simple agreement or denial. And there's no general structure for such responses – you need to think about the inquiry and tell the most appropriate one according to the context. Here are some examples:
Q: What is your favorite coffee?
A: I like the cappuccino.
Q: Who were you talking to?
A: I was talking to my mother.
Q: Where have you been all summer?
A: I was visiting my grandma in Oklahoma.
Q: How did you improve your English accent?
A: I was taking speaking classes.
The third type of question in English is also called the alternative one. It's similar to both general and special inquiries, but there's one significant difference. Alternative questions usually contain the answer and offer the interlocutor a choice between two or more options. Here is the structure for such inquiries:
Interrogative word/Auxiliary verb + Subject + Predicate + Object 1 + or + Object 2?
The easiest way to determine whether the question is alternative is to check the conjunction “or.” It will likely be the choice question if you can see it in the sentence. Here are a few examples of such questions in English:
Do you like coffee or tea?
What is your favorite city, New York or Paris?
Who are you visiting today, Kate or Charlie?
Do you want to watch Stranger Things or Friends?
Is your cat black or gray?
To answer such questions, you need to choose one of two proposed options, or disregard them entirely and bring in your own. For more extended responses, especially if the answer is negative, you can use “neither…nor” grammar structure. Look at these examples:
Q: Who will be your maid of honor, Jessica or Ashley?
A: Neither Jessica nor Ashley. I’m going to ask Kathy.
Q: Do you like iced tea or hot?
A: I like hot tea.
Q: Do you want to go to McDonald’s or Taco Bell?
A: Let’s go to Taco Bell.
Q: Where have you been, at school or grandma’s?
A: Neither at school nor grandma’s. I was shopping with Max.
Finally, we’ve reached the final form of English sentences, called tag questions (or question tags, if you prefer). We use them to seek confirmation (or refutation) of something we already know. Usually, such questions are used in spoken English.
Here's the structure for every example of question tag:
Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Object + Tag?
Tag questions are simplified general inquiries like “Am I right?” or “Do you agree?” To avoid repeating the main sentence, we just add the small tags “isn’t,” “don’t,” “won’t,” etc. Here are some examples:
It is raining outside, isn’t it?
You don’t like this movie, don’t you?
She won’t come, will she?
Kate told you that, didn’t she?
It will be great, won’t it?
Such questions can be both positive and negative. The difference is simple – if the main clause is negative, we use the positive tag, and vice versa. And there is one important exception. If the subject of the main sentence is the pronoun I, we use the tag “aren’t,” not “am I not.” If it sounds complicated, just look at these examples:
You like Jane, don’t you?
You don’t like me, do you?
I have no choice, aren’t I?
You really like hot dogs, don’t you?
She isn’t a big fan of the band, is she?
As for answers, they are similar to the general inquiries. Question tags require confirmation or refutation (yes-no, in layman’s terms). Hence, the answer should indicate your agreement or disagreement with the statement. For example:
Q: You don’t like the Beatles, do you?
A: No, I do like the Beatles.
Q: It is cold outside, isn’t it?
A: Yes, it is pretty cold.
Q: She won’t call, will she?
A: No, she won’t.
Q: Jake didn’t tell you that, did he?
A: No, he didn’t.
Ask Promova Anything About Types of Questions in English
If, after reading this article, you still have some questions (about asking questions!), the best platform to ask is Promova. This language-learning multi-tool has plenty of options, and you can find the best solution according to your needs.
You can find:
- Personal and group lessons with professional tutors. After passing a quick test to determine your fluency level, you can start practicing immediately with our team of language professionals. And if you are still hesitating, a free trial lesson is waiting for you – get acquainted with the studying process without spending a penny.
- Conversation Club and online speaking classes. If you want to speak English more and master this skill, you can join our free Conversation club. Here, you can discuss different topics with tutors and other students, practice communication, and boost confidence in a friendly environment.
- Convenient application and a useful Promova blog. For those who prefer to study alone, Promova offers a user-friendly app available for iOS and Android devices. You can access hundreds of exciting lessons and enjoy them anywhere and anytime. And don’t forget about our blog, where you can read helpful and engaging articles for free.
Of course, there are many more options available. These are only the most popular ones. You can find various self-learning options and guided courses that'll help improve your language skills on your terms. Start learning with Promova today, and the results will pleasantly surprise you.
To sum up, the ability to ask questions is a critical skill every person should have. And now that you know different types of questions in English, it'll be much easier for you to master this skill. We hope this article was helpful. And you remember that we always ask you to write something in the comments. But today is different – you can ask us anything you want. Just use one of the question types mentioned in the article.
Are there any situations when it’s inappropriate to ask questions?
Yes, sometimes it's better not to ask a question. For example, if you know that the person won’t be comfortable giving you a response. Also, it's inappropriate to ask questions in a confidential or sensitive context where the answer is meant to be kept private.
How can I use open-ended questions to encourage deeper conversation?
The most efficient way is to use questions like “Can you tell me more about…” or “What do you think about… .” Such inquiries encourage your interlocutor to share their thoughts and feelings. By asking it, you also create a safe, non-judgmental space for others to express themselves.
Can the way I ask questions impact the quality of answers I receive?
Absolutely! You can get entirely different responses depending on the intonation, context, and the question itself. For example, leading questions can influence the answer and provide more information. Open-ended inquiries allow you to understand the person better. General inquiries, on the other hand, imply short answers, and they give only little details.
What are some effective questioning techniques to improve communication?
The most effective strategies include active listening, paraphrasing, and clarifying. These simple techniques help us better understand our interlocutors and build trust. Also, it assures the person we are talking to that we are interested in their thoughts. To implement these strategies, you should carefully listen to your interlocutor and ask questions according to the context. Additionally, try using more complex grammatical structures such as reported speech to improve your fluency and be more natural at asking good questions.