How To Ask Great Questions in English
Do you know how to ask accurate questions in English?
In this week’s video, we’re going to perfect your English questions and grammar structure.
The way you ask questions influences how much information someone gives you when they answer. You can change the structure of your questions to:
get short answers
get long answers
politely ask permission
It’s actually really easy once you understand a few important rules. It’s also easy to confuse the word order (something I see my students do frequently), so we’ll talk about that too.
I’ve also included a fun challenge in this video where you have to change the incorrect questions or fill in the missing words.
If you want to know how to ask questions in English and understand the grammar and structure, then this video is perfect for you.
So we’ll look at the form and the structure of questions to get simple, quick answers, more complex and detailed answers and the best types of questions to politely ask permission or to get someone to help you.
Any questions? Didn’t think so. Let’s get into the lesson.
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The way you ask your questions influences how much information that someone gives you when they answer.
So closed questions will give you a simple answer. We often call them yes or no questions because the answer doesn’t need any detail, it just needs a simple yes or a no.
Take this simple sentence as an example.
- She is eating pizza.
So looking at it is going to help us to review the structure of English questions. It has a subject, an auxiliary verb, a main verb and some additional information in the sentence.
In this case, a noun. Now I’m sure you can probably think of how we make a question out of this sentence right?
We switch the auxiliary verb and the subject.
- Is she eating pizza?
So with closed questions, we start with an auxiliary verb. Or a modal verb which I’m gonna talk about a little later on in the lesson.
But there are three main types of auxiliary verbs. We have be, have and do.
You also know that each of these auxiliary verbs have their own past tense forms, their present tense forms so these auxiliary verbs actually help you to form the tense of your question and they impact the way that your main verb shows up in your question.
- Is he drinking coffee?
- Was she working this morning?
So you might notice that the verb be here is used for continuing actions, the continuous tense. So our verb is in -ing form and that’s specifically because of our auxiliary verb.
- Have you cleaned the car?
- Has she slept in again?
Have is the auxiliary verb that’s used for present and past perfect so the verb that follows is in the past participle form.
- Does she work from home?
- Did they walk to work today?
Do helps us to form questions in the simple tenses.
So with the simple tenses, we’re just using our base verb.
After your auxiliary verb, you follow a basic sentence structure by adding the subject which is you, we, they, he, she, then the main verb comes next and that can be any verb at all and after all of that, comes all of the extra additional information that you need to include.
- Is she eating pizza?
- Were they sleeping last night?
- Did you watch the movie?
- Have you finished your work?
So you can see this structure really clearly, can’t you?
Auxiliary verb, subject, main verb and then any additional information.
The word order is really important here. I often see my students switching the auxiliary verb and the subject around which isn’t grammatically correct.
This is going to be a problem for you in more formal situations or if you’re sitting an English exam because it’s incorrect.
But the reality is you’re also going to hear native English speakers switching that word order, especially when they’re speaking informally.
Same as: Is she going?
And then of course, when we’re using question tags, the rules are a little different too.
- She’s going, isn’t she?
- She’s going, right?
You can check out an entire lesson about question tags that I made right up here, yeah?
So all of these questions, questions that require just a yes or a no, a simple answer, they’re useful to help you confirm information to get details quickly but they’re not really great at helping you to find out detailed information or to have really interesting, deep conversations.
This is where we need open-ended questions because they allow us to ask for details, descriptions to dive deeper into a conversation. The structure is really similar to a closed question which is great but you’ve got to add your question word, right?
And it’s easiest to remember all of the question words by remembering five W’s. And a H. So annoying that there’s one H, so much nicer to have five W’s.
Who, what, when, where, why and how
When you ask about a person, you use who.
- Who did she go to the concert with?
But when you want to know about an activity, you would use what.
- What did she do last night?
When you want to understand the action in relation to time, you use when.
- When did she go to the concert?
For location, it’s where.
- Where did she go last night?
To find out the reason that someone did something or something happened, we use why.
- Why did she go to the concert?
And you can use how to find the solution for something.
- How did she get to the concert?
But open questions are my favourite types of questions because they’re so great for conversation when you learn to master them. It’s not just yes or no, this or that. There’s so much more space for detail and extra ideas.
Now I’ve got a tip to help you remember the word order in questions right to remember the structure of English questions and I want you to try and remember these acronyms.
For closed questions and for quick answers, remember ASVI. Auxiliary verb, subject, verb and additional information.
For open questions and longer, more detailed answers, remember QASVI. Question word, auxiliary verb, subject, verb and additional information.
Now closed and open questions are great when it comes to getting information but what about when you want to ask a question to get someone to do something for you?
You’re making a request right and your chances for getting someone to do something for you increase quite significantly if you ask politely so let’s see what we need to do to ask politely.
Can I use your phone?
You’ve got to ask politely right and there is a really clear way to help rephrase your questions in English to make them more polite.
A direct question gets the information that you want but sometimes in some context, it sounds really blunt and that’s when you can use an indirect question.
There are many, many ways to indirectly ask someone to do something in English but I’ve got three to share with you today.
- Could I please?
- Would you mind?
- And do you know?
So we can add all of these to the beginning of our questions to help make them sound a little more polite.
- Would you mind if I used your phone?
Can/Could I please…
So let’s look at those two sentences again.
- Can I use your phone?
This question is the same structure as a closed question, isn’t it?
But we’re using a modal auxiliary verb, modal verbs are auxiliary verbs too so you’re going to get a short, sharp yes or no answer to that question.
Could I please use your phone? So we’re adding could instead of can, it softens the request and of course, by adding please it also elevates the level of politeness.
Would you mind…
The second polite phrase is: Would you mind?
So this is generally used when you want someone to do something for you.
- Would you mind making dinner?
- Would you mind taking me to work tomorrow?
Notice the change in form of that verb to the continuous -ing form.
Now we can also use “Would you mind?” in the same way that we would say “Could I please?” to ask permission for something.
But when we do that we need to add the word if.
- Would you mind if I used your phone?
- Would you mind if I had the last piece of cake?
“Would you mind” is like would you be upset if I did something so you’re checking to be polite.
Do you know…
- What time does the bus leave?
This is a really blunt direct question and if you’re interrupting someone to ask that question it can sound quite rude but by adding “Do you know” you can soften your tone, you can make the question more polite.
- Do you know what time the bus leaves?
There are some small little changes to take note of here. Can you see them? We remove the auxiliary verb and the verb changes to the third person singular form.
You can make this sentence more polite by adding “do you know if” or “do you know whether”
- Do you know if she’s coming to the party?
So next time you want to politely ask for permission to do something or you want someone to do something for you or you want to ask for some more information politely then just remember the three important phrases you learned in today’s lesson.
- Could I please?
- Would you mind?
- Do you know?
All right let’s do a little error correction together just to make sure that everything you learnt during this lesson stays put in your mind. I’ve got three questions that need short answers and the sentences are not quite right, either the word order’s mixed up or maybe I’ve used the wrong auxiliary verb. I want you to help me fix them.
She’s drinking coffee.
Is she drinking coffee?
Last night, were they party?
Were they partying last night?
Did you yesterday go to work?
Did you go to work yesterday?
Remember those acronyms.
The next three sentences require longer answers. They’re open questions but the question words are missing and I need your help.
- Who did he play football with?
- When did they play football?
- Where did they play football?
Hopefully, that wasn’t too hard but in this last part of the challenge, I’ve got to ask you to change these direct questions into more polite ones – indirect questions.
And if you’ve got any doubts or if you’re not sure about the way that you’re doing this, drop your questions down into the comments below. That’s where I can jump in and help you out and give you some feedback.
- What time is our meeting?
- Do you know what time our meeting is?
- Can you take me to the airport tomorrow?
- Do you mind taking me to the airport tomorrow?
- Can I use your car tonight?
- Could I please use your car tonight?
Cool! Now you’ve got all the tools that you need to ask great questions, whether you’re getting short answers, long answers or you’re asking polite questions. And if you want to ask me a question, add it down into the comments below.
I’m looking forward to reading and giving feedback and answering some of your questions down there. I will see you in the next lesson.
Have a great week and I’ll see you soon.
Links mentioned in the video
How To Connect Ideas In English [with Linking Words]
How To Use TOO | Stop Making This Common Mistake in English!
Asking Questions in English | Question Structure | Fix Your Grammar Mistakes!