Thinking Box

Fundamentals of English Grammar - Chapter 5: Asking Questions

5-1 Yes/No Questions and Short Answers

Yes/No Question -> Short Answer (+ Long Answer)

  • (a) Do you like tea?
    -> Yes, I do. (I like tea.)
    -> No, I don't. (I don't like tea.)
  • (b) Did Sue call?
    -> Yes, she did. (Sue called.)
    -> No, she didn't. (Sue didn't call.)
  • (c) Have you met AI?
    -> Yes, I have. (I have met Al.)
    -> No, I haven't. (I haven't met Al.)
  • (d) Is it raining?
    -> Yes, it is. (It's raining.)
    -> No, it isn't. (It isn't raining.)
  • (e) Will Rob be here?
    -> Yes, he will. (Rob will be here.)
    -> No, he won't. (Rob won't be here.)

A yes/no question is a question that can be answered by yes or no.
In an affirmative short answer (yes), a helping verb is NOT contracted with the subject.
In (c): INCORRECT: Yes, I've.
In (d): INCORRECT: Yes, it's.
In (e): INCORRECT: Yes, he'll.
The spoken emphasis in a short answer is on the verb.

5-2 Yes/No and Information Questions

A yes/no question = a question that can be answered by "yes" or "no"
A: Does Ann live in Montreal?
B: Yes, she does. OR No, she doesn't.

An information question = a question that asks for information by using a question word:
where, when, why, who, whom, what, which, whose, how
A: Where does Ann live?
B: In Montreal.

(Question Word) + Helping Verb + Subject + Main Verb + (Rest of sentence)

  • (a) Does Ann live in Montreal?
    (b) Where does Ann live?

    (c) Is Sara studying at the library?
    (d) Where is Sara studying?

    (e) Will you graduate next year?
    (f) When will you graduate?

    (g) Did they see Jack?
    (h) Who(m) did they see?

    (i) Is Heidi at home?
    (j) Where is Heidi?

    The same subject-verb word order is used in both yes/no and information questions:
    Helping Verb + Subject + Main Verb

    Example (a) is a yes/no question.
    Example (b) is an information question.

    In (i) and (j): Main verb be in simple present and simple past (am, is , are, was, were) precedes the subject. It has the same position as a helping verb.

  • (k) Who came to dinner?
    (l) What happened yesterday?

    When the question word (e.g., who or what) is the subject of the question, usual question word order is not used. Notice in (k) and (l) that no form of do is used.

5-3 Where, Why, When, What Time, How Come, What … For

Question -> Answer

  • (a) Where did he go?
    -> Home.

    (b) When did he leave?
    -> Last night. / Two days ago. / Monday morning. / Seven-thirty.

    (c) What time did he leave?
    -> Seven-thirty. / Around five o'clock. / A quarter pas ten.

    (d) Why did he leave?
    -> Because he didn't feel well.

    Where asks about place.

    A question with when can be answered by any time expression, as in sample answers in (b).

    A question with what time asks about time on a clock.

    Why asks about reason.

  • (e) What did he leave for?
    (f) How come he left?

    Why can also be expressed with the phrases what … for and how come, as in (e) and (f).

    Notice that with how come, usual question order is not used. The subject precedes the verb and no form of do is used.

5-4 Question With Who, Who(m), and What

  • (a) Who came?
    -> Someone came.

    (b) Who(m) did you see?
    -> I saw someone.

    In (a): Who is used as the subject (s) of a question.
    In (b): Who(m) is used as the object (O) in a question.
    Whom is used in very formal English. In everyday spoken English, who is usually used instead of Whom:
    UNCOMMON: Whom did you see?
    COMMON: Who did you see?

  • (c) What happened?
    -> Something happened.

    (d) What did you see?
    -> I saw something.

    What can be used as either the subject or the object in a question.

    Notice in (a) and (c): When who or what is used as the subject of a question, usual question word order is not used; no form of do is used:
    CORRECT: Who came?
    INCORRECT: Who did come?

5-5 Using What + a Form of Do

(a) What does Bob do every morning?
-> He goes to class.

(b) What did you do yesterday?
-> I went downtown.

(c) What is Anna doing (right now)?
-> She's studying.

(d) What are you going to do tomorrow?
-> I'm going to go to the beach.

(e) What do you want to do tonight?
-> I want to go to a movie.

(f) What would you like to do tomorrow?
-> I would like to visit Jim.

What + a form of do is used to ask questions about activities.

Examples of forms of do: am doing, will do, are going to do, did, etc.

5-6 Using Which and What kind of


  • (a) TOM: May I borrow a pen from you?
    ANN: Sure. I have two pens. This pen has black ink. That pen has red ink.
    Which pen do you want? OR
    Which one do you want? OR
    Which do you want?

    In (a): Ann uses which (not what) because she wants Tom to choose.

    Which is used when the speaker wants someone to make a choice, when the speaker is offering alternatives: this one or that one; these or those.

    (b) SUE: I like these earrings, and I like those too.
    BOB: Which (earrings / ones) are you going to buy?
    SUE: I think I'll get these.

    Which can be used with either singular or plural nouns.

  • (c) JIM: Here's a photo of my daughter's class.
    KIM: Very nice. Which one is your daughter.

    Which can be used to ask about people as well as things.

  • (d) SUE: My aunt gave me some money for my birthday. I'm going to take it with me to the mall.
    BOB: What are you going to buy with it?
    SUE: I haven't decided yet.

    In (d): The question doesn't involve choosing from a particular group of items, so Bob uses what, not which.

What kind of

  • (e) What kind of shoes did you buy?
    -> Boots. / Sandals. / Tennis shoes. / Loafers. / Running shoes. / High heels. / Etc.

    What kind of asks for information about a specific type (a specific kind) in a general category.
    In (e): general category = shoes
    specific kinds = boots / sandals / tennis shoes / etc.

  • (f) What kind of fruit do you like best?
    -> Apples. / Bananas. / Oranges. / Grapefruit. / Strawberries. / Etc.

    In (f): general category = fruit
    specific kinds = apples / bananas / oranges / etc.

5-7 Using Whose

  • (a) Whose (book) is this?
    -> It's John's (book).

    (b) Whose (books) are those?
    -> They're mine (OR my books).

    (c) Whose car did you borrow?
    -> I borrowed Karen's (car).

    Whose asks about possession.

    Notice in (a): The speaker of the question may omit the noun (book) if the meaning is clear to the listener.

    (d) Who's that?
    -> Mary Smith.
    (e) Whose is that?
    -> Mary's.

    Who's and whose have the same pronunciation.
    Who's is a contraction of who is.
    Whose asks about possession.

5-8 Using How

  • (a) How did you get here?
    -> I drove. / By car.
    -> I took a taxi. / By taxi.
    -> I took a bus. / By bus.
    -> I flew. / By plane.
    -> I took a train. / By train.
    -> I walked. / By foot.

    How has many uses. One use of how is to ask about means (ways) of transportation.

  • (b) How old are you? -> Twenty-one.
    (c) How tall is he? -> About six feet.
    (d) How big is your apartment? -> It has three rooms.
    (e) How sleepy are you? -> Very sleepy.
    (f) How hungry are you? -> I'm starving.
    (g) How soon will you be ready? -> In five minutes.
    (h) How well does he speak English. -> Very well.
    (i) How quickly can you get here? -> I can get there in 30 minutes.

    How is often used with adjectives (e.g., old, big) and adverbs (e.g., well, quickly).

5-9 Using How Often

  • (a) How often do you go shopping?
    -> Every day.
    -> Once a week.
    -> About twice a week.
    -> Every other day or so.*
    -> Three times a month.

    How often asks about frequency.

  • (b) How many times a day do you eat?
    -> Three or four.
    How many times a week do you go shopping?
    -> Two.
    How many times a month do you go to the post office?
    -> Once.
    How many times a year do you take a vacation?
    -> Once or twice.

    Other ways of asking how often:
    How many times a day / a week / a month / a year

  • Frequency Expressions
    a lot / occasionally / once in a while / not very often / hardly ever / almost never / never
    every / every other / once a / twice a / three times a / ten times a + day / week / month / year

*Every other day means "Monday yes, Tuesday no, Wednesday yes, Thursday no," etc.
Or so means "approximately."

5-10 Using How Far

  • (a) It is 489 miles from Oslo to Helsinki by air.
    (b) It is 3,605 miles form Moscow to Beijing. / from Beijing to Moscow. / to Beijing from Moscow. / to Moscow from Beijing.

    The most common way of expressing distance:
    It is +distance + from/to + to/from
    In (b): All four expressions with from and to have the same meaning.

  • (c) How far is it from Mumbai to Delhi?
    -> 725 miles.
    (d) How fas do you live from school?
    -> Four blocks.

    How far is used to ask questions about distance.

  • (e) How many miles is it from London to Paris?
    (f) How many kilometers is it to Montreal from here?
    (g) How many blocks is it to the post office?

    Other ways to ask how far:
    how many miles
    how many kilometers
    how many blocks

5-11 Length of Time: It + Take and How Long


  • (a) It takes 20 minutes to cook rice.
    (b) It took Al two hours to drive to work.

    It + take is often used with time words and an infinitive to express length of time, as in (a) and (b).
    An infinitive = to + the simple form of a verb.
    In (a): to cook is an infinitive.

  • (c) How long does it take to cook rice? Twenty minutes.
    (d) How long did it take Al to drive to work today? Two hours.
    (e) How long did you study last night? Four hours.
    (f) How long will you be in Hong Kong? Ten days.

    How long asks about length of time.

  • (g) How many days will you be in Hong Kong?

    Other ways of asking hon long:
    How many + minutes / hours / days / weeks / months / years

5-12 Spoken and Written Contractions with Question Words

Spoken Only

  • is
    (a) When's he coming? / Why's she late?

    (b) What're these? / Who're they talking to?

    (c) When's the movie start? / Where's he live?

    (d) Who'd you see. / What'd you do?

    (e) What's she done? / Where's he gone?

    (f) How've you been? / What've I done?

    (g) Where'll you be? / When'll they be here?

    Is, are does, did, has, have, and will are usually contracted with question words in speaking.

  • (h) What do you -> Whaddaya think?
    (i) What are you -> Whaddaya thinking?

    What do you and What are you both can be reduced to "Whaddaya" in spoken English.


  • is
    (j) Where's Ed? / What's that? / Who's he?

    Only contractions with Where, what, or who + is are commonly used in writing, such as in letters to friends or emails. They are generally not appropriate in more formal writing, such as in magazine articles or reference material.

5-13 More Questions with How

  • (a) How do you spell "coming"? -> C-O-M-I-N-G.
    (b) How do you say "yes" in Japanese? -> Hai.
    (c) How do you say / pronounce this word?

    To answer (a): Spell the word.
    To answer (b): Say the word.
    To answer (c): Pronounce the word.

  • (d) How are you getting along?
    (e) How are you doing?
    (f) How's it going?
    -> Great. / Fine. / Okay. / So-so.

    In (d), (e), and (f): How is your life? Is your life okay? Do you have any problem?

    Note: Example (f) is also used in greetings: Hi,Bob. How's it going?

  • (g) How do you feel? / How are you feeling?
    -> Terrific! / Wonderful! / Great! / Fine. / Okay. / So-so / A bit under the weather. / Not so good. / Terrible! / Lousy. / Awful!

    The questions in (g) ask about health or about general emotional state.

  • How do you do?
    -> How do you do?

    How do you do? is used by two speakers when they meet each for the first time in a somewhat formal situation, as in (h).*

*A: Dr. Erickson, I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine, Rick Brown. Rick, this is my biology professor, Dr, Erickson.
B: How do you do, Mr. Brown?
A: How do you do, Dr. Erickson? I'm pleased to meet you.

5-14 Using How About and What About

  • (a) A: We need one more player.
    -> B: How about/What about Jack? Let's ask him if he wants to play.
    (b) A: What time should we meet?
    -> B: How about/What about three o'clock?

    (c) A: What should we do this afternoon?
    -> B: How about going to the zoo?
    (d) A: What about asking Sally over for dinner next Sunday?
    -> B: Okay. Good idea.

    How about and what about have the same meaning and usage. They are used to make suggestions or offers.
    How about and what about are followed by a noun (or pronoun) or the -ing form of a verb (gerund).

    NOTE: How about and what about are frequently used in informal spoken English, but are usually not used in writing.

  • (e) A: I'm tired. How about you?
    -> B: Yes, I'm tired too.
    (f) A: Are you hungry?
    -> B: No. What about you?
    -> A: I'm a little hungry.

    How about you? and What about you? are used to ask a question that refers to the information or question that immediately preceded it.

    In (e): How about you? = Are you tired?
    In (f): What about you? = Are you hungry?

5-15 Tag Questions

  • (a) Jill is sick, isn't she?
    (b) You didn't know, did you?
    (c) There's enough time, isn't there?
    (d) I'm not late, am I?
    (e) I'm late, aren't I?

    A tag question is a question that is added onto the end of a sentence. An auxiliary verb is used in a tag question.
    Notice that I am becomes aren't I in a negative tag, as in (e). Am I not is also possible, but it is very formal and rare.

Affirmative (+) + Negative (-) -> Affirmative Expected Answer

  • (d) You know Bill, don't you? -> Yes.
    (e) Marie is from Paris, isn't she? -> Yes.

    When the main verb is affirmative, the tag question is negative, and the expected answer agrees with the main verb.

Negative (-) + Affirmative (+) -> Negative Expected Answer

  • (f) You don't know Tom, do you? -> No.
    (g) Marie isn't from Athens, is she? -> No.

    When the main verb is negative, the tag question is affirmative, and the expected answer agrees with the main verb.


  • (h) It will be nice tomorrow, won't it?⤻
    (i) It will be nice tomorrow, won't it?⤼


    Tag questions have two types of intonation: rising and falling. The intonation determines the meaning of the tag.

    A speaker uses rising intonation to make sure information is correct. In (h): the speaker has an idea; the speaker is checker is checking to see if the idea is correct.

    Falling intonation is used when the speaker is seeking agreement. In (i): the speaker thinks it will be nice tomorrow and is almost certain the listener will agree.


  • (j) Will it the nice tomorrow?
    -> Yes, it will. OR No, it won't.

    In (j): The speaker has no idea. The speaker is simply looking for information.