Interrogative Sentences

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Still from The Godfather Part II depicting Clemenza kissing Michael Corleone's hand
In the movie The Godfather (1972), Don Corleone asks Peter Clemenza the question: "Do I have your loyalty?" (an interrogative sentence). Paramount / Getty Images

An interrogative sentence is a type of sentence that asks a question, as opposed to sentences that make a statement, deliver a command, or express an exclamation. Interrogative sentences are typically marked by inversion of the subject and predicate; that is, the first verb in a verb phrase appears before the subject. Importantly, an interrogative sentence ends with a question mark.

Examples and Observations

  • "An interrogative sentence is formed by reordering the words of its declarative counterpart: Interrogative: Did Nina sleep well?
    Declarative Statement: Nina slept well.

    Note that the verb 'did' was inserted and 'slept' became sleep in the interrogative. The interrogative, then, has two words acting as verbs. The additional verb 'did' is a helping verb (sometimes called auxiliary); it is paired with 'sleep', our main verb. Together, the helping verb and main verb form a full verb."
    (Susan J. Behrens, Grammar: A Pocket Guide. Routledge, 2010)
  • "How did it get so late so soon?"
    (Dr. Seuss)
  • "Are my kids cute or do they make people uncomfortable?"
    (Donkey in Shrek Forever After, 2010)
  • "Where do you want to go today?"
    (tagline from Microsoft's first global advertising campaign, 1996)
  • "Now, who wants to save the world?"
    (Mermaid Man in SpongeBob SquarePants, 2000)
  • "What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?"
    (Henry David Thoreau, letter to Mr. Blake, May 1860)
  • "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"
    (Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in The Wizard of Oz, 1939)
  • "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?"
    (riddle posed by the Mad Hatter in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)
  • Cletus: [after showing Cargill a trick with his thumb] You want to know how I do it?
    Russ Cargill: Four generations of inbreeding?
    ( The Simpsons Movie, 2007)
  • "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?"
    (Juliet in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 1595)
  • "What if the dinosaurs come back while we're all asleep?"
    (Ariana Richards as Lex in Jurassic Park, 1993)
  • "Hey, Cameron. You realize if we played by the rules right now we'd be in gym?"
    (Matthew Broderick as Ferris in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986)
  • "If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?"
    (Vince Lombardi)
  • "Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites, and any number of other useful objects, and who have a noble history extending back three thousand years, haven't yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?"
    (Bill Bryson, Notes From a Small Island. Doubleday, 1995)
  • "In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the... Anyone? Anyone?... the Great Depression, passed the... Anyone? Anyone? The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act? Which, anyone? Raised or lowered?... raised tariffs, in an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government. Did it work? Anyone? Anyone know the effects? It did not work, and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression. Today we have a similar debate over this. Anyone know what this is? Class? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone seen this before? The Laffer Curve. Anyone know what this says? It says that at this point on the revenue curve, you will get exactly the same amount of revenue as at this point. This is very controversial. Does anyone know what Vice President Bush called this in 1980? Anyone? Something -d-o-o economics. 'Voodoo' economics."
    (Ben Stein in the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986)
  • "How do you spell relief?"
    (advertising slogan for Rolaids)
  • "I did a radio interview; the DJ's first question was 'Who are you?' I had to think. Is this guy really deep, or did I drive to the wrong station?"
    (Mitch Hedberg)

Negative Polar Interrogatives

  • "Negative yes-no interrogatives are typically used to ask questions which function to check or confirm something which the speaker believes or expects to be the case, or which the speaker considers to be a viable course of action.
    "The negative is formed with not and is most frequently contracted to n't. Sentences with the full form are not more formal than those with contracted n't: Wasn't he here at the party?
    Don't you want any tea or coffee? Where the full form is used, not comes after the subject: Could you not hear me?
    (please confirm, yes or no)
    Should we not photocopy it?
    (I consider this a desirable action) Negative interrogatives with modal verbs are also often used to express polite requests or polite commands: 'Please, won't you both come through?' Carole said, leading them down the red carpeted foyer and into the dimly lit restaurant." (Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Excerpt From Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood

  • "Are you happy? Are you given to wondering if others are happy? Do you know the distinctions, empirical or theoretical, between moss and lichen? Have you seen an animal lighter on its feet than the sporty red fox? Do you cut slack for the crime of passion as opposed to its premeditated cousin? Do you understand why the legal system would? Are you bothered by socks not matching up in subtler respects than color? Is it clear to you what I mean by that? Is it clear to you why I am asking you all these questions? Is, in general, would you say, much clear to you at all, or very little, or are you somewhere in between in the murky sea of prescience? Should I say murky sea of presence of mind? Should I go away? Leave you alone? Should I bother but myself with the interrogative mood?"
    (Padgett Powell, The Interrogative Mood. ECCO, 2009)

The Lighter Side of Interrogative Sentences

  • Inigo Montoya: I do not mean to pry, but you don't by any chance happen to have six fingers on your right hand?
    Man in Black: Do you always begin conversations this way?
    (Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride, 1987)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Interrogative Sentences." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Interrogative Sentences. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Interrogative Sentences." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).