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Lesson 4: Asking questions.

 

There are four main ways in English to form a question.     

  • By making your voice rise at the end of a sentence.
  • By beginning the sentence with a question word.
  • By beginning the sentence with a form of DO.
  • By placing the Linking Verb or Auxiliary Verb at the beginning of the sentence.

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Rising voice method:  Any group of words you speak in English will sound like a question if you make the pitch of your voice rise at the end of the last word or on the last word.  Pitch means the musical quality of your voice, not the loudness.

This is your dog (question)
dog (statement) This is your
The man is sick (question)
sick (statement) The man is

Since we cannot hear the rise or fall of a voice when we read written words, we have to rely on written symbols to tells us what the words mean.  These symbols, called PUNCTUATION, are  traffic signs for written language.  The example sentences above would be written like this:

A period ( . ) at the end of a sentence tells us that the thought is finished and that the pitch of our voice  should fall on the last word if we read that sentence aloud.  This type of sentence is called a Statement or a Declarative Sentence and is used to give information.

A question mark ( ? ) at the end of a sentence tells us that the thought is finished and that the pitch of our voice should rise on the last word if we read the sentence aloud.  This type of sentence is called a Question or an Interrogative Sentence  and is used to seek or request information.

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Usually, when you  raise the pitch of your voice on the last word to ask a question, you also  reverse the first two words of the sentence,  placing the linking verb (am, is, are, was, were) at the beginning.

If the verb in the sentence is an action verb, you form a question by placing a form of the verb DO at the beginning of the sentence - DO, DOES or DID and raise the pitch of your voice on the last word.

1. You have a nice car.  (statement) 1. Do you have a nice car?  (question)
2. Mary takes a nap every day.  (statement) 2. Does Mary take a nap every day?  (question)
3. Tom rode his bicycle to school.  (statement) 3. Did Tom ride his bike to school?  (question)

NOTE:  When you add DO to a sentence to form a question, it takes over the jobs of agreeing with the subject and of telling us when the action takes place. 

More examples:

1. Henry paints the house carefully.  (statement) 1. Does Henry paint the house carefully?  (question)
2. They went to the theater last night.  (statement) 2. Did they go to the theater last night?  (question)
3. I play the piano well.  (statement) 3. Do I play the piano well?  (question)
4. Everyone enjoyed the concert.  (statement) 4. Did everyone enjoy the concert?  (question)

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Reversing Auxiliary Verbs to Form a Question:

When a statement contains a two-part verb ( have gone, will sing, can ride, had thought), the first part is an auxiliary verb or helping verb.  To form a question with a two-part verb, the auxiliary verb is placed at the beginning of the sentence.  The pitch of your voice also rises on the last word.

1. Laura has gone to the store.  (statement) 1. Has Laura gone to the store?  (question)
2. The old garbage truck had crashed into the wall. 2. Had the old garbage truck crashed into the wall?
3. The ball in Times Square will fall at midnight. 3. Will the ball in Times Square fall at midnight?
4. Gene can play the guitar.  (statement) 4. Can Gene play the guitar?  (question)

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Making Questions with Question Words:

When you begin a sentence with WHERE, WHEN, WHY, WHAT, HOW, WHO or WHICH,  it almost always signals that a question is coming.  It is not always necessary to raise the pitch of your voice on the last word if the question begins with one of those QUESTION WORDS, because they alone tell the listener to expect a question. 

NOTE: An exception is when the words WHAT or HOW introduce an exclamation.  "What a beautiful day it is!"  "How terrible the storm was!"  The double clues - the pitch of the speaker's voice falling on the last words and the verbs coming at the end of the sentences - tell us that these are not questions in spite of their beginning with WHAT or HOW.

1. What time is it?  [voice can rise (^) or fall (v) at the end] 5. How much is that doggie in the window?  ^or  v
2. Where are you going?  ^or v 6. What kind of fool do you think I am?  ^or  v
3. Why are the police coming?  ^or  v 7. Which dogs were chasing the car?  ^or  v
4. How did the accident happen?  ^or  v 8. Who broke the window?  ^or  v

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Exercise A:  Put the correct punctuation marks at the end of the following sentences. 

1. The little boy ran to school 6. Will you have your homework done on time
2. When does the movie start 7. Pete can help you with it
3. There are twelve cups of sugar in the fudge 8. Does Pete understand the lesson
4. How much sugar is there in the fudge 9. Where did you put your school books
5. Are there really twelve cups of sugar in it 10. What a horrible lesson that was

Exercise B: Change the following statements to questions using any of the methods explained in the lesson.

Statements Questions
1. John was president of his class. 1.
2. The brown pony trotted along the path. 2.
3. All the books are on the top shelf. 3.
4. Michael can climb the wobbly ladder. 4.
5. The clerk tried to reach the books. 5.
6. Ruth decided she wanted those red flowers. 6.

Exercise C:  Make up questions that would get you the information found in the following statements.  Examples:  The red flowers were in a vase.  =  "What color were the flowers in the vase?"  "Where were the red flowers?"  "What was in the vase?"

1. The play starts at eight o'clock. 1.
2. Jack took his sons to the ball game. 2.
3. Martha likes the red convertible, not the blue one. 3.
4. Most students enter the school by the main doors. 4.
5. The carpenter needed twenty nails to finish the job. 5.

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Answers to Basic English Lesson 4:

Exercise A: Put the correct punctuation marks at the end of the following sentences.

1. The little boy ran to school. 6. Will you have your homework done on time?
2. When does the movie start? 7. Pete can help you with it.
3. There are twelve cups of sugar in the fudge. 8. Does Pete understand the lesson?
4. How much sugar is there in the fudge? 9. Where did you put your school books?
5. Are there actually twelve cups of sugar in it? 10. What a horrible lesson that was!

Exercise B: Change the following statements to questions using any of the methods explained in  Lesson 4.

1. John was president of his class. 1. Was John president of his class?
2. The brown pony trotted along the path. 2. Did the brown pony trot along the path?
3. All the books are on the top shelf. 3. Are all the books on the top shelf?
4. Michael can climb the wobbly ladder. 4. Can Michael climb the wobbly ladder?
5. The clerk tried to reach the books. 5. Did the clerk try to reach the books?
6. Ruth decided she wanted those red flowers. 6. Did Ruth decide she wanted those red flowers?

Exercise C: Make up questions that would get you the information found in the following statements.  Your answers may vary.  Here are some good possibilities.

1. The play starts at eight o'clock. 1. What time does the play start?  When does the play start?  What starts at eight o'clock?
2. Jack took his sons to the ball game. 2. Who did Jack take to the ball game?  Who took Jack's sons to the ball game?  Where did Jack take his sons?
3. Martha likes the red convertible, not the blue one. 3. Which convertible does Martha like?  Who likes the red convertible?  How many convertibles are there?
4. Most students enter the school by the main doors.  4. Who enters the school by the main doors?  How do most students enter the school?  What do most students enter by the main doors?
5. The carpenter needed twenty nails to finish the job.  5. Who needed twenty nails to finish the job? How many nails did the carpenter need to finish the job?  What did the carpenter need to finish the job?  Why did the carpenter need twenty nails?
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