Questions are the opposite of a statement. They ask for information.

What's your name?

One of the most obvious features of a question is that it ends in a question mark, but there are other signs.

Many questions have a question word (who, what, when, where, why, how, which).

A slightly more technical term you might hear for words like 'what', 'who', 'where', etc. is 'interrogative word'. We're just going to stick with 'question word' on Writelike, because it's easier to remember.

Where, in this wilderness, could they bolt to?

Write a question using a question word: 'who', 'what', 'when', 'where', 'why', 'how', 'which'.

Questions have a few nuances when it comes to their grammatical structure, which could be confusing if you try to analyse them using the methods we've developed over the previous lessons in this series.

But the differences really boil down to just a few rules, which we'll explain here just so you can see how they work:

1. The 'question word' always goes just before the verb group.

  • Who ate the cake?
  • What did Mimi eat?
  • Where did Mimi eat the cake?
  • Last night, how did Mimi eat the cake?

No matter what question we ask, the question word always comes before the verb group. Usually that means the question word will come right at the start of the sentence (but if a sentence has any modifiers—like "last night" in that final example—those can sneak in front).

2. The 'question word' fills the same clause component slot as the 'answer' would.

This is a little bit theoretical, but it will help explain the third 'rule' (to come).

If we answered the questions above with a statement, we can see that the 'question word' is standing in for the word group that is the 'answer':

  • Who ate the cake?
    Mimi ate the cake.
  • What did Mimi eat?
    Mimi ate the cake.

We can go one step further and say that the 'question word' is filling the same clause component slot.

The 'subject':

  • Who ate the cake?
  • Mimi ate the cake.

The 'complement':

  • What did Mimi eat?
  • Mimi ate the cake.

Or a 'modifier':

  • Where did Mimi eat the cake?
  • Mimi ate the cake in the kitchen.

3. The verb group gets split up when the 'question word' is not the 'subject' of the clause.

You've probably noticed something strange about some of these verb groups.

What did Mimi eat?
Where did Mimi eat the cake?
How did Mimi eat the cake?

It kind of looks like there are 2 verb groups in each question. which would normally mean there are 2 clauses. But really there's still only 1 verb group; it's just been broken up and the tense (shown by the tense helper, 'do') has swapped places with the subject, "Mimi".

This doesn't happen when the 'question word' is the subject:

Who ate the cake?

As we already saw, 'question words' always go in front of the verb group, so when the 'question word' is the subject, we can't do the swap!

Question words are great when the answer is a person, thing, time, place, or reason, but not for a simple yes or no question.

In that situation, we need to do something else, like this:

"Did he do it?"

Notice that with these questions, we can get a statement by just reversing the verb helper and the subject of the clause. So:

"Did he do it?"


"He did do it."

Here are a couple more examples of this kind of question.

Mayn't I go and play now, aunt?

"Are you familiar with the Latin term 'in loco parentis'?"

You might have noticed something odd about that last snippet. There's no main verb!

Well, that's not entirely true. The main verb is 'are'. 'Being' verbs (like 'is', 'was', 'are') are a bit special and can do all sorts of things that other verbs can't.

For example, in the snippet above, 'are' is playing the role of both 'tense helper' and 'main verb'. Since we can only use one highlighter, we chose to highlight its role as tense helper because of how it swaps with the subject to form a question.

Note that 'being' verbs can also have separate verb helpers

There are some circumstances where you'll find 'being' verb questions with separate verb helpers.

For example, you might be using modal verbs to get a slightly different shade of meaning:

"Would you be familiar with the Latin term 'in loco parentis'?"

Write a yes/no question that you can turn into a statement by switching the subject and verb helper.

There's one more common type of question. How would you answer a question like this?

"Then we're okay for now, right?"

Just like the last 3 snippets, you can answer this question with a yes or no. Instead of swapping the subject and tense helper, the question is added at the end like a tag. Removing the 'tag' creates a statement.

"Then we're okay for now, right?"

Tag questions are one way you can create what's known as a leading question. Leading questions are ones where people are more likely to answer in a particular way. Compare these two questions:

Leading question: Then we're okay for now, right?

Neutral question: Are we okay for now?

The leading question is seeking affirmation. The asker wants the answer to be "Yes, we're okay for now."

The neutral question doesn't suggest a specific answer.

What answers are these tag questions leading to?

We weren't going to live here forever, were we?

What answer is the person asking this question trying to get?

"No, we weren't going to live here forever."

Again, the asker is trying to get the responder to agree with their original statement: "We weren't going to live here forever."

There's a little bit of social manipulation going on here. The asker is trying to bypass the respondent's reluctance to leave by getting the respondent themself to admit that they can't stay where they are.

"We are blocked up, then?"

What answer is the person asking this question trying to get?

"Yes, we are blocked up."

The asker is trying to get confirmation that they understood the situation correctly.

Oh, you think you're mighty smart, don't you?

What answer is the person asking this question trying to get?

"Yes, I do think I'm mighty smart!"

Actually, this is a bit of an odd one, because it's also drawing on a common social 'rule': "you should be humble and not brag about things like being clever". So even though the structure of the question is leading you to answer "yes", the responder will probably still want to answer "no".

The asker is purposefully creating a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario. They're forcing the responder to either:

  • Put in effort to break the natural flow and put themselves down in order to contradict the asker's opinion, or
  • Break social norms and risk looking arrogant by admitting they have a positive trait.


Write a question that has a tag.
What answer is your tag question leading to? Advanced: What kind of situation might you use this question in (e.g. for reassurance, to advance an argument, to confirm understanding, to put someone down...)?