An Introduction to Declarative Questions

You're saying that this is a declarative question?

Illustration of a chalkboard
An example of a declarative question.

A declarative question is a yes-no question that has the form of a declarative sentence but is spoken with rising intonation at the end.

Declarative sentences are commonly used in informal speech to express surprise or ask for verification. The most likely response to a declarative question is agreement or confirmation.

Example Declarative Questions

When reading these examples, see if you can discern what it is that the speaker of each declarative question is feeling and trying to express. Declarative questions don't always get answers, but they always get a point across.

  • "You think I'm kidding you? You think it's a joke to have to walk home on a clear night with an umbrella? You think that because I'm quirky I don't hurt? You've got it backward. I'm quirky because I hurt," (Weston, The Four Seasons).
  • Henry Rowengartner: Wow, you ate that whole thing?
    Frick: Why, sure! It wasn't that much, (Nicholas and Brown, Rookie of the Year).
  • "'This isn't working out,' Jin-ho said. 'We're going to have to let you go.'
    "'You're firing me?' she said.
    "'Yes. Ann will call you Monday re the paperwork.'
    "'You're firing me at a bar? Outside the bathroom in a bar?'
    “'I'm sorry if it doesn't suit your high standards,'" (Clifford 2016).
  • Vivian: I was supposed to ride that barrel right out of this crummy town.
    Jaye: And you never considered a bus? (Fletcher and Dhavernas, "Barrel Bear").

Declarative Questions Vs. Rhetorical Questions

You might be familiar with rhetorical questions, questions that seek no answer, and wonder whether declarative questions and rhetorical questions are the same. For an explanation of why they are not, read this excerpt from International English Usage.

"A declarative question has the form of a statement:

You're leaving?

but has the intonation of a question when spoken and is marked by a question mark in writing. A declarative question differs from a rhetorical question such as:

Do you think I was born yesterday?

in two ways:

  1. A rhetorical question has the form of a question:
    • Was I tired?
  1. A declarative question seeks an answer. A rhetorical question requires no answer since it is semantically equivalent to an emphatic declaration:
    • Do you think I'm stupid? (i.e. I'm certainly not stupid)
    • Am I tired? (i.e. I'm extremely tired.)" (Todd and Hancock 1986).

Sources

  • “Barrel Bear.” Wonderfalls, season 1, episode 7, 27 Oct. 2004.
  • Clifford, Stephanie. Everybody Rise. Griffin, 2016.
  • Rookie of the Year. Dir. Daniel Stern. MetroLight Studios, 1993.
  • The Four Seasons. Dir. Robert Mulligan. Universal Pictures, 1981.
  • Todd, Lorento, and Ian Hancock. International English Usage. Routledge, 1986.