As you watch the video, look at the examples of questions. They are in red in the subtitles. Then read the conversation below to learn more. Finally, do the grammar exercises to check you understand, and can use, questions correctly.
We use the question words who (for people), what/which (for things), when (for time), where (for places), why (for reasons) and how (for more details).
What do I need to know about question words?
I know you know the basics, but questions are quite tricky. Let’s just go over the main rules.
We usually form questions by putting an auxiliary verb, or a modal verb, before the subject.
Does it suit me?
Has Mum called?
Can you get the tea?
Shall I pass you to Oliver?
When the verb 'to be' is the main verb, we don’t use auxiliary verbs.
Is Oliver there?
Was it good?
We can add question words to get more or different information.
Where did you go swimming? > In the swimming pool in town.
Why did you go there? > Because it’s a nice, big pool.
Who did you go swimming with? > With Amy.
What time did you meet Amy? > At 10 o’clock.
Which pool did you go in? > The serious one, without the slides!
How did you get there? > On the bus.
I see that questions sometimes finish with prepositions.
Yes, that’s very common.
Who were you out with?
What have you got that bag for?
What’s all that about?
Where are you calling from?
OK, that all seems straightforward.
Yes, but do you know about subject and object questions?
If who, what or which is the subject of the question, it comes before the verb and we don’t use do as an auxiliary.
Who went out for curry? (subject – who)
What happened? (subject – what)
Which looks better, this or that one? (subject – which)
Object questions follow the structure we looked at before.
Who did you go out for curry with? (subject – you; object – who)
Which restaurant does Oliver like most? (subject – Oliver; object – which)
What did they do after the restaurant? (subject – they; object – what)
I think I understand …
Here’s a little test for you, then. A cat killed a mouse and a dog killed the cat.
1 What killed the mouse?
2 What did the cat kill?
3 What killed the cat?
4 What did the dog kill?
OK, 1 the cat, 2 the mouse, 3 the dog, 4 the cat. Right?
Exactly! You’ve got it.
Any more tricky things about question words?
Well in reported speech or indirect questions, question words come in the middle of sentences. In these types of sentence, the word order does not change. We don’t put the verb to be before the subject or use an auxiliary to form a question, as in a normal question:
I asked her what she was doing at the weekend.
Do you know where the post office is?
Can you tell me how much it costs?
What are you doing at the weekend?
Where is the post office?
How much does it cost?
Hmm, why do you use indirect questions if they are more complicated?
Well, they are more polite, especially if you are talking to a stranger.
OK, I’ll remember to say: 'Do you know where the post office is?'
Good. Can you make that even more polite?
How about: 'Excuse me, could you tell me where the post office is, please?'
Fine! That’ll do. Do you really need a post office?!
Worksheets and downloads
Daisy: Hi, I'm home!
Oliver: Hi there, I didn't know you were out. I thought you were still in bed. What have you got that bag for? Where have you been?
Daisy: I've been swimming! This is the new me. No more lying in bed on Sunday mornings. I want to get fit again. It's been a long, lazy summer!
Oliver: Oh yeah? What's all that about? Or rather ... who have you met?
Daisy: No one! I went with a new girl in my class – Amy. She's cool. Anyway, what about you? Why are you having breakfast so late? Who were you out with last night?
Oliver: Would you like some tea? I went to the cinema with Alfie and a couple of others, then we went for a curry in town. It was cool.
Daisy: That sounds like a good night. What did you see?
Oliver: Dale wanted to see that new sci-fi thriller, the one with ... oh, what's his name?
Daisy: I know the film. What was it like?
Oliver: Not bad. The curry afterwards was better though. We had a laugh.
Daisy: Speaking of laughs, do you want to see something funny?
Oliver: Go on then.
Daisy: Tara! What do you think? Does it suit me?
Oliver: What do you look like!!?? Can you get it? It's behind you.
Daisy: Ummm, ah, it's Mum. Hi, Mum! How's Africa?
Sophie: Hi, honey! Africa's very well, thank you! How are you?
Daisy: Haha. You're in Tanzania, aren't you? What's it like?
Sophie: Oh, it’s amazing! Absolutely gorgeous. I'm at the coast now, near Dar-es-Salaam – it's wonderful. And the last few days have been perfect. I've taken so many photos!
Daisy: Yeah? What have you been taking pictures of?
Sophie: Well, I've been to Lake Victoria – incredible, it's as big as a sea and the sunrises, oh, with the fishing boats .... and I've been to Arusha, near Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru. They're both snow-capped volcanoes in the north – very impressive – and I've spent two days in the Serengeti National Park.
Daisy: Did you see any lions? Or giraffes?
Sophie: Oh yes!! And, and ... well, a lot of animals. What an experience! I am so lucky!
Daisy: Did you get many good photos? Stupid question, right?
Sophie: Haha. Yes, hundreds! I'll be home on Monday – shall we get some pizzas and look at my photos? Just the three of us?
Daisy: Yeah, cool! Hey, shall I pass you to Oliver? He's here with me ...
Sophie: OK, thanks love.
Oliver: Hi, Mum ... no, I'm fine! It's just ... no, nothing ... how are you?
What questions do you like to ask people when you first meet them?