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On Questions - Descriptive Grammar


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There are several groups of major questions (and several minor), according to what type of answer they expect:

1. Those that expect affirmation of negation: Have you finished the book? – yes-no questions.

2. Those that typically expect a reply from an open range of replies, as in 'What is your name'- wh-quesions.

3. Those that expect as the reply one of two or more options presented in the question: Would you like to go for a walk or stay at home? – alternative questions.

Minor groups:

1. Exclamatory

2. Rhetorical

3. Echo

Yes-no questions are formed in a similar way to negation:

-by placing the operator before the subject and giving the sentence a rising intonation.

The train has left. – Has the train left?

If there is no operator, dummy DO is introduced as with negation.

They live in Paris. – Do they live in Paris?


In American English, only be and do can function as operators. In British English, have may function as one as well:

She has a cold.

Typically AmE: Does she have a cold?

Typically BrE: Has she (got) a cold?

She has two brothers.

Typically AmE: Does she have two brothers?

Typically BrE: Has she (got) two brother?

Yes-no questions contain non-assertive items such as any and ever; the question containing such forms is generally neutral, with no bias in expectation towards a positive or negative response. However, that's not the case with assertive items. Observe these two questions:

'Did anyone call last night?' vs. 'Did someone call last night?'

There are no expectations of the speaker in the first example. However, in the second, the speaker expects the answer to be positive (Is it true that someone called last night?). Maybe he'd heard the phone ringing last night? Or is expecting a call?

The declarative question has the form of a declarative, except for the final rising intonation: You've got the money? (intonation rise on 'money' indicates it's a question and not a statement)

The wh-questions are formed by using wh- element. It comes first in the sentence and the wh-word itself takes first position in the wh-element (who/whom/whose, what, which, when, where, how, why)

Wh-element can have several syntactic roles:

1. SUBJECT: Who loves Mary?

2. OBJECT DIRECT: Whom does he love?

3. SUBJECT COMPLEMENT: Whose antiques are these?

4. OBJECT COMPLEMENT: How wide did they make the stairs?

5. ADVERBIAL: Where shall I put this?

Except in formal style, ''who'' rather than ''whom'' is used as object (Who did you want?) or complement of preposition (Who did you give it to?)

An alternative question presents two or more possible answers and presupposes that only one is true. There are two major types:

1) Would you like chocolate, vanilla or strawberry (ice-cream)? – alternative which resembles a yes-no question

2) Which ice-cream would you like? Chocolate, vanilla or strawberry? – alternative which resembles a wh-question.

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