Question Forms


Yes/No Questions notes

watch the Yes/No Questions video

  • Another way to identify helping verbs is that they are the only words that can be contracted with nouns or pronouns.

  • When adding do, it should take on the form appropriate for the tense, while the original verb reverts to the base form (eg. "You went home." changes to "Did you go home?").

  • Unlike be, do cannot be both a main verb and a helping verb at the same time. If you have do as the main verb in the original sentence (eg. "She does gymnastics,") and don't have a separate helping verb, then you need to add another do so that you now have a helping verb ("Does she do gymnastics?"). As usual, the new helping verb takes on the form of the original main verb, which in turn reverts to its base form.

  • Modal verbs are included among helping verbs.

  • Moving the helping verb to the front works with any tense, any mood, and any voice. When there are multiple helping verbs, only move the first to the front ("Have you been listening?" not "Have been you listening?").

  • With multi-word modals

    • that start with to be: only move the first word to the front ("Charlie is able to life it." turns into "Is Charlie able to life it?").

    • that don't start with to be: add do to the front, and leave the rest of the helping verb where it was ("Kylie had to babysit." turns into "Did Kylie have to babysit?"). Also, the original auxiliary verb should revert to base form, while do takes on the appropriate tense.

  • If you start with a negative sentence, simple remove 'not' (or 'never') from the sentence when turning it into a question. Alternately, you can leave 'not' in the sentence to form a negative question

    • If 'not' is contracted with the helping verb, keep them together as you move them to the front.

    • Otherwise, 'not' can come after the subject and before the rest of the verb phrase.

  • I typically prefer to leave pronouns unchanged when changing from a declarative sentence to an interrogative one, just for the sake of limiting what changes to focus on the helping verb. However, some students prefer to alter pronouns to fit with most contexts (which usually means changing 'I' to 'you' and vice-versa).

  • When expressing negative for time as a whole, you can use 'never' instead of 'not' in your short answer. In this case, 'never' comes after the subject but before the helping verb.

  • 'have got' (British) equates with 'do have' (American), and the two can be used interchangeably. In fact, in casual speech it is acceptable to answer "Have you got a pencil?" with "Yes, I do," or "No, I don't."

  • 'not' can be contracted with helping verbs, and helping verbs can be contracted with the subject. Or you could use no contractions. Which contractions you use or don't use is up to you. However, in short answers, there must be at least 2 distinct words (where words contracted together count as 1) after 'yes' or 'no'.

    • "Yes, it's" is not acceptable; you need at least 2 words after 'yes'. Use "Yes, it is" instead.

    • "No, it's not", "No, it isn't", and "No, it is not" are equal and are all valid short answers.

  • The helping verb at the beginning of a question will never be in -ing form ('being', 'doing', or 'having'), V3 form ('been', 'done', or 'had'), or base form ('be'; except in archaic usage). Any helping verbs with these forms present in your original sentence will be preceded by another helping verb, and only the first helping verb in the sequence would go to the front. Modal verbs don't have those forms anyway.

  • The standard inflection is to go up at the end of a yes/no question and to go down at the end of a short answer, although there are different ways to inflect, often depending on what you want to stress or imply.



Subject & Object Questions notes

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  • A better name for Object Questions would be Predicate Questions; they apply not only to object nouns, but to predicate nominatives, predicate adjectives, verbs, and adverbs as well.

  • The question words by type are as follows:

    • Nouns: who (subject only), whom (objects only), what, which, where (sometimes)

    • Verbs: what

    • Adverbs: where, when, how, why

    • Adjectives: how

    • Determiners: whose _____, which _____, how many/much _____, what _____

  • If the prompted answer is the object of a preposition and the question words is of the noun variety, then the final column (after objects) should be prepositions. However, these should be left blank if the question word is of the adverb variety.

    • Stated places and times could either be nouns or adverbs, depending on how they are used in a sentence. For example, with "Who were they running from?" the answer should be a direct object of 'running'; thus, we need a preposition at the end of the question. But in "Where did they play football?" the answer (which would likely be in the form of a prepositional phrase) should serve as an adverb (giving more information about 'play'), and thus we should not have a preposition at the end of the question.

    • Dynamic prepositions like 'to', 'from', and 'until' should be the last word of the sentence, while static prepositions like 'at', 'by', and 'in' are typically omitted from the question.

    • In formal speech, the preposition would be even before the question word (e.g.: "To whom am I speaking?")

  • When asking for a determiner or determiner/pronoun answer, a general noun (or category) should be in the second column, after the question word and before the auxiliary verb.

  • In the 'object' column, instead of object nouns you could have other predicate arguments like adjectives or prepositional phrases.

  • For object questions, the first auxiliary verb needs to take on the properties of the verb. Properties like the 3rd-person 's' or the past tense should be reflected in the first auxiliary verb, not the main verb.

  • In the 'main verb' or 'full verb' columns, you could actually have entire verb strings, which might even include 'not', adverbs, or even multiple verbs together.

  • When making subject questions, make sure the verb reflects the third person-singular. That means if you're starting with an affirmative sentence with a plural subject or with 'I' or 'You' as a subject (like "Mike and Amy live there.") and you want to turn that sentence into an interrogative one, the verb needs to have the 3rd-person 's' (as in "Who lives there?").

  • Subject questions do not require auxiliary verbs. If the verb string needs one, then use what's there. But if there isn't one already, don't add do (like you would with object questions).



Question Tags

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  • The style of question tags and the most commonly-used tags vary depending on the region or dialect.

  • The term ‘question tags’ may refer to just the bit at the end, and ‘tag questions’ refers to the entire sentence or expression. Most resources made by Brits will use ‘question tags’, while American grammarians are more likely to use ‘tag questions’.

  • Question tags are far more common in spoken English than in written English.

  • Since to be can act like an auxiliary verb even when it’s the main verb, repeat that form of ‘to be’ if there are no other auxiliary verbs (i.e. it’s an active sentence in the present simple or past simple tense). For example: “You were there, weren’t you?”

  • ‘Have’ as a main verb expressing possession can also act like an auxiliary verb, which is more common in British English than in American English, similar to the distinction between “have you got …” and “do you have”. Brits might say, “She has lovely hair, hasn’t she?” while Americans might say, “She has lovely hair, doesn’t she?”

  • ‘not’ is almost always contracted into the auxiliary verb. In very formal, almost archaic speech, the ‘not’ might come separately and un-contracted, but then it comes after the pronoun.

  • A clause is generally determined as negative if it contains ‘not’, but positive otherwise, regardless of its meaning or tone. There are only a few other word that makes a clause negative:

    • ‘never’ as an adverb expressing time

    • ‘no’ as a determiner, especially after there is or there are

    • the pronouns ‘nothing’, ‘no one’, ‘no body’, and ‘nowhere’

  • The only time you won’t already have an auxiliary verb in the original clause is if it’s 1) positive 2) in the present simple or past simple tense, and 3) does not have to be (or maybe to have) as its main verb. In these cases, you use don’t, doesn’t, or didn’t in the question tag.

  • Since past modals add ‘have’ after the original modal, the two parts of a past modal go together. In semi-formal speech, you might keep the ‘have’ with the tag. For example: “They could’ve been followed, couldn’t they’ve?”

  • If the original auxiliary verb was ‘am’, we instead use ‘aren’t’ in the tag (“aren’t I?” not “amn’t I?”).

  • For rhetorical questions, your voice almost always goes up at the end.

  • For unbalanced question tags - rhetorical questions - a sentence that starts negative has a negative tag, although these are very rare.

  • If you’re expressing a request, suggestion, or demand using a rhetorical question tag:

    • the original clause will be in imperative form. (We use declarative form for expressions of irony or surprise and for non-rhetorical questions.)

    • if the original clause doesn’t have an auxiliary verb, use ‘will’ or ‘would’ instead of ‘do’. ‘would’ is usually more polite than ‘will’.

    • if the sentence starts with “Let’s …”, use ‘shall’ for the question tag.

  • Rhetorical Question Tags are often confrontational.

  • How a voice rises or falls is called intonation.

  • We usually answer question tags the same way we would answer yes/no questions.

Related Printouts

  • Helping Verbs poster (letter) (A4)

  • Subject & Object Questions structure (letter) (A4)



Next in the Question Forms Series

Interrogative Words

What are the different properties of question words?  How does 'what' act differently than 'when' does?  We'll go into not just the meaning, but how the different words are used.

Comparison of Question Types

Yes/No, Subject, Object, Negative, Tag, Mirror, and more.


sentence structureErik Arndt