Questions are different from statements, because statements give information, questions ask for it. We signal that we are asking a question by changing the way we speak (our inflection) and we change the grammar of the sentence as well. (Usually by inversion). Questions are not just used for getting information. They can also be used for sarcasm, making statements, challenging statements, and keeping conversations going.
Here we will study:
1. Inflection of questions
2. The grammar of questions
3. Question words
5. Question tags
6. Rhetorical questions
7. Sarcastic questions
Inflection is the changing of the way we say something, for a particular reason. We might say it more quickly, slower, or, in the case of a question, by raising the pitch of the voice at the end of the sentence. Sometimes this on its own is enough to indicate a question.
Look at this example:
Question: What time shall we meet?
Answer : At 7.30
If the answer is given with no change in pitch, this means that the meeting is definitely at 7.30. However, if the speaker's voice is slightly higher at the end of the sentence the answer becomes a question meaning 'Is 7.30 a good time for you?'.
Inflection can also change the meaning of a question.
Look at this example:
Question: I'm looking forward to the party.
Answer: Are you going as well?
Said with the voice rising at the end of the sentence, this is a genuine question, expecting a yes/no answer. Said with a raised pitch for the whole sentence, this means 'I am glad you are going too.' Said with no rise in pitch at all, or with a drop in pitch at the end, the same question means 'I am not glad you are going too.'
The inflection of a question is indicated in written punctuation by a question mark, which is why you sometimes see it in sentences that do not look like normal questions – for example when someone answers a phone by saying 'Hello?'
Inversion is used in English for two purposes - giving a sentence emphasis (Never had he seen so big a tree) and to ask questions. The most basic inversion in questions is of subject with auxiliary. In a present simple statement, the auxiliary is sometimes left out - in a question it is not.
They meet at 7.30.
Do they meet at 7.30?
If the sentence contains more than one auxiliary, we only invert the first one.
They have been meeting at 7.30.
Have they been meeting at 7.30?
If the sentence contains a modal, we invert that.
I should exercise more.
Should I exercise more?
If the sentence has a modal and an auxiliary, we invert the modal only
Fred might have done that.
Might Fred have done that?
We use the verb 'to be' as we would an auxiliary.
That is easy.
Is that easy?
Using inversion to make a question gives a question that can be answered wiht 'yes' or 'no'. To get further information, we need to use question words. These are : Who, When, Why, What, Which, and How.
For example here are some questions about a famous highwayman:
Who asks about a person e.g. Who was Dick Turpin? (A highwayman)
When asks about a time e.g. When did he live?(In 1700)
What asks about a thing e.g. What was his job?(He was a thief)
Why asks for a reason e.g. Why did he rob people?(For money)
Which asks about a particular thing or things e.g. >Which people did he rob?(Rich people)
How asks for a method e.g. How did he die?(He was hanged)
During a conversation, we might ask short questions of just one or two words to show that we are paying attention and also to steer the conversation to things which interest us. These questions can have question words, or be made questions simply by inflection.
I went to town yesterday.
Yes, Mike and I wanted to see Fred.
You know, Mike from the school.
These are used to keep a conversation going. You reply to question tags with 'Yes' or 'no'. To form a question tag, you use the auxiliary, modal or the verb 'to be' in the main sentence, and follow it with the subject pronoun. If the main statement is positive, the question tag should be negative, and if the statement is positive, the question tag is negative.
You know about this, don't you?
Sometimes we use a question tag to challenge an opinion, or to ask someone to confirm one. In these cases we do not change positive to negative in the tag.
Oh, so you saw a ghost, did you?
Yes, I did!
I'm going to do it right now!
Oh, you are, are you? Try it and see what happens.
Sometimes we ask a question to which we know the answer. The question is simply to focus the listener's attention on what is to come. Politicians use this often. (In fact the word comes from rhetor which means 'public speaker'.)
What is wrong with this country? The government/opposition, thats what! What can you do? Vote for me.
However, we also use rhetorical questions in everyday life.
Is this familiar?:
Do you know what time it is? How can you come home so late when you have school tomorrow?
The English are very fond of sarcasm. Sometimes questions which seem completely innocent have hidden sarcasm, and sometimes sarcasm is very obvious.
For example:, a shop assistant who is having problems with a fussy customer might ask
'Is there anything else I can do for you?' (That slight emphasis on 'else' shows that she thinks she has dome too much already.)
Someone who is less concerned with being polite might simply ask
'So what did your last slave die from? Overwork perhaps?'
Okay, do you now understand questions? Easy, aren't they? So now do you want to do some exercises to see how you do? And where are the exercises? Perhaps the blue arrow is a clue?