Questions in English

Questions. John Lund DigitalVision

The following rules apply to forming questions in English. There are a number of other, more advanced, ways to form questions in English, but simple English questions always follow these rules. Generally speaking, there are two types of questions: object questions and subject questions.

Object question: Where do you live?

Subject question: Who lives there?

In the first question, the questioner wants to know about the object of the verb live.

The subject is known (you). In the second question, the questioner wants to know who lives in the house. In other words, the subject is unknown.

There are also indirect questions and tag questions. This page focuses on subject questions in a variety of tenses. For information on other types of questions follow the links at the end of this article. 

Subject Questions in English #1 - Auxiliary Verbs Placed Before Subjects

All tenses in English use auxiliary verbs. Auxiliary verbs are always placed before the subject in questions in English. Place the main form of the verb after the subject. Yes / No questions begin with the auxiliary verb. Information questions begin with a question words such as 'where', 'when', 'why' or 'how'. 

Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Main Verb

Do you study French?
How often did you visit Paris when you lived in France?
How long have you lived here?

Questions in English: Present Simple / Past Simple / Future Simple 

Use the auxiliary verb 'do / does' for present simple questions and 'did' for past simple questions plus the base form of the verb (infinitive without 'to').

Present Simple

Where do they live?
Do you play tennis?
Does she go to your school?

Past Simple

When did you have lunch yesterday?
Did they buy a new car last week?
How did she do on the exam last month?

Future Simple

When will she visit us next?
Where will you stay when you get there?
What will we do?!

Present Continuous / Past Continuous / Future Continuous

Use the auxiliary verb 'is / are' for present continuous questions and 'was / were' for past continuous questions plus the present participle ('ing' form of the verb).

Present Continuous

What are you doing?
Is she watching TV?
Where are they playing tennis?

Past Continuous

What were you doing at six p.m.?
What was she cooking when you came home?
Were they studying when you walked into their room?

Future Continuous

What will you be doing next week at this time?
What will she be speaking about?
Will they be staying with you?

Present Perfect / Past Perfect / Future Perfect

Use the auxiliary verb 'have / has' for present perfect questions and 'had' for past perfect questions plus the past participle (third form of the verb).

Present Perfect

Where has she gone?
How long have they lived here?
Have you visited France?

 Past Perfect

Had they eaten before he arrived?
What had they done that made him so angry?
Where had you left the briefcase?

Future Perfect

Will they have finished the project by tomorrow?
How much time will you have spent reading that book?
When will I have completed my studies?!

Exceptions to the Rule - To Be - Present Simple and Past Simple

The verb 'to be' takes no auxiliary verb in the present simple and past simple question form. In this case, place the verb 'to be' before the subject to ask a question.

To Be Present Simple

Is she here?
Are you married?
Where am I?

To Be Past Simple

Were they at school yesterday?
Where were they?
Was she at school?

This is the basic structure of all questions in English. There are, however, exceptions to these rules as well as other forms. Once you understand this basic structure, continue to learn about:

Question Words
Subject and Object Questions
Indirect Questions
Question Tags
Asking Polite Questions

Remember that questions are one of three forms for each sentence. There is always a positive, negative and question form for each sentence. Study your verb forms and you'll be able to easily use each of these tenses to have conversations and ask intelligent questions.