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Word Order in Questions

Word order in questions differs from the way we arrange words in common sentences. Basically, it’s only necessary to put an auxiliary verb before a subject and add an interrogative verb at the beginning if necessary. However, asking questions in English can still be confusing. That’s why it’s necessary to learn how to arrange words in general, special, alternative, and tag questions.

General questions

A general question requires putting an auxiliary verb right before a subject. The list of auxiliaries includes “be,” “have,” “do,” “can,” and “will.” The main verb is placed after a subject. The rest of a phrase, including an object and adverbial, will follow the previously mentioned words. Answers can be short or full. But it’s necessary to remember that the word order should be changed – a subject will be placed before an auxiliary verb. Here are a few examples:

Question
Auxiliary verb + Subject + Main Verb
Answer
Subject + Auxiliary verb
Does he go to school? Yes, he does / No, he doesn’t.
Will you read this book? Yes, I will / No, I won’t.
Has Ben bought a phone yet? Yes, he has / No, he hasn’t.
Can you give me your bag? Yes, I can / No, I can’t.

If the verb “be” is used as a main or linking verb in a sentence, it also should be placed before a subject in a question:

  • ✔️ Mary is a student – Is Mary a student?
  • ✔️ They are sad – Are they sad?

Special Questions

Special questions start with the interrogative words “what,” “how,” “when,” “why,” “whom,” and “where,” etc. If a question isn’t directed on a subject, the rest of a phrase will look just like a general question. Answers are usually full, but in some cases, they can be short. Here are a few examples of special questions and answers:

Question
Interrogative word + auxiliary verb + subject + main verb
Answer
Where do you live? I live in Stockholm / In Stockholm.
What did Jack take from a shelf? He took a textbook / A textbook.
How will you get there? I will go by bus / By bus.

If a question is connected with a subject or an interrogative word is a subject itself, a phrase won’t contain an auxiliary verb. Usually, these questions are started with “Who”, “Which,” or “What.” The word order will look like this:

Interrogative word (Subject) + Predicate + (Object + Adverbial)

  • ✔️ Who helps Ann clean their house? – Her sister helps her.
  • ✔️ What happened to your best friend? – He broke his arm.
  • ✔️ Who likes cherry pies? – Jim likes cherry pies.

Words “What,” “Who,” and “Whom” often start questions referring to objects with prepositions. In this case, a preposition will finish a question, especially in informal writing or communication. For example:

  • ✔️ What is Jack looking at?
  • ✔️ What does your decision depend on?
  • ✔️ Who did Antony bring flowers for?

Formal writing and communication often require putting prepositions at the beginning of a question:

  • ✔️ With whom are you going to visit the conference?
  • ✔️ For whom did he create a new task?

Alternative Questions

An alternative question allows us to choose between a few answers. The word order doesn’t differ from the one in a general or interrogative question. Answers can also be short or full.

  • ✔️ Is your dog big or small? – My dog is big.
  • ✔️ Where are his parents, at home or at work? – They are at work.
  • ✔️ Does Tom like tea or coffee? – He likes coffee.

Tag Questions

A tag question is divided into two parts – a statement and a short yes/no phrase. If the first part is affirmative the second one is negative, and vice versa. Actually, tag questions are asked to receive confirmation of a statement. However, an answer can be both positive or negative. Here are a few examples:

  • ✔️ His father is a doctor, isn’t he? – Yes, he is / Yes, his father is a doctor.
  • ✔️ You don’t have money, do you? – No, I don’t / No, I don’t have any money.
  • ✔️ Bob went to his native city by train, didn’t he? – Yes, he did / Yes, he went by train.

Learning Word Order Rules in Questions

In some cases, arranging words in questions is a complicated mission. But it’s necessary to learn how to place auxiliary verbs and use interrogative words to make writing and conversations clear. The best way to learn to ask questions correctly is to identify a subject, main verb, direct object, and other components of a sentence first. After determining these words, it will be easier to arrange them in the right order and ask a question.

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