Questions in English Grammar

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Questions in English grammar

Questions, also called interrogative sentences, allow us to get information. They can be closed (i.e. a yes/no question) or open (containing a question word) and always end in a question mark.

Questions in English grammar can also be direct (e.g. Where is the station?) or indirect (e.g. Could you tell me where the station is?). This page deals with direct questions. If you want to know more about indirect questions, head to our page on reported speech.

Learn everything you need to know about questions in English grammar with Lingolia, then practise in the interactive exercises.


—How can I help you today?

—My washing machine is broken. Can you send a technician?

—What is the problem?

—It’s making a loud noise.

—How long have you had this problem?

—About a week.

—Have you tried turning it off and on again?

—Yes, but it didn’t help.

—Do you have a guarantee?

—No, I don’t. It’s very old.

Types of questions in English grammar

There are two types of questions in English grammar: closed or open.

  • Closed questions (also called yes/no questions) begin with a verb and can be answered with a simple yes or no.
—Do you have a guarantee?
No, I don’t. It’s very old.
  • Open questions (also called wh-questions) start with a question word (see below); these ask for more information than just a yes or no.
What is the problem?
—My washing machine is making a loud noise.

How to form questions in English

There are two methods for forming questions in English: inversion and adding an auxiliary verb. Which method we use depends on the verb and the tense.

Method 1: Inversion

The most common way to form questions is by inverting the order of the conjugated verb and the subject so that the verb comes first.

It is broken.
Is it broken?

Use this method for questions with:

  • compound tenses (tenses made up of two or more verbs)
Have you tried turning it off and on again?
Can I help you?
Were you late?
Is it made in Germany?

Method 2: Add an auxiliary verb

For questions in the simple present or the simple past with a verb other than be, we have to add an auxiliary verb to the beginning of the sentence.

You have a guarantee.
Do you have a guarantee?

Which auxiliary verb we add depends on the tense:

Simple present questions: add do/does

  • use does for the 3rd person singular (he/she/it)
    Does it make a loud noise?
  • use do for all other persons
    Do you have a guarantee?

Simple past questions: add did

  • use did for all persons
Did you use the machine?
Did the technician come?


Use the infinitive after do/does and did, not the conjugated form of the verb.

Does she have a guarantee?
not: does she has
Did she repair the washing machine?
not: did she repaired

Questions with have (got)

There are two ways to say have in the simple present: have and have got.

Questions with have are formed by adding do/does. Questions with have got are formed using inversion.

Do you have a guarantee?
Have you got a guarantee?

Learn more about the difference between have and have got in English grammar.

Wh-questions in English

To form wh-questions, simply place the question word before the yes/no question.

How can I help you?
When did the problem start?

In questions with a preposition, the preposition usually comes at the end.

What is the guarantee for?

List of English question words

The table below shows the most useful questions words in English:

Question Word Asks about … Example
how manner How can I help?
what a thing (no predetermined selection) What is the problem?
when a time When did the problem start?
where a place or location Where do you live?
which a choice between two or more things (predetermined selection) Which (city) do you like more — London or Paris?
who a person Who do you know?
whose ownership Whose jacket is this?
why a reason Why are you here?

We can combine certain question words with other words to ask for different kinds of information:

How long have you had the problem?
Which colour do you prefer — yellow or blue?
What time is it?

Who vs. whom?

In everyday language, who is used to ask about a subject and an object. However, in formal language, it is correct to say whom when asking about the object of a sentence.

Who did you see? (informal)
Whom did you see? (formal)

Go to our page on who vs. whom to learn more about this tricky topic.

Subject questions in English

The examples above are all object questions, which is the most common type of question.

However, sometimes we want to ask about the subject of a sentence (i.e. the person or thing performing the verb). These are called subject questions. Compare:

Paul called Melissa.
subject question: Who called Melissa? – Paul.
object question: Who did Paul call? – Melissa.

How to form subject questions in English

We don’t use inversion or add auxiliaries when forming subject questions.

Instead, we replace the subject with who (to ask about a person), or what (to ask about a thing). The verb is always in the 3rd person singular.

The technicians fix the washing machine.
Who fixes the washing machine?
An accident happened.
What happened?