• How-to
  • 3 min read

How-To Make Great Questions

What’s the source of great answers? Great questions of course! Asking the right question at the right time is the key to getting the information you need. Here’s how you can do it.

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Using the right structure

If English is not your native language, or even if it is, then using the correct structure is integral to forming questions accurately.

There are two main structures when making questions in English:

Structure 1: Using the verb ‘to be’

Question word(s)Verb ‘to be’SubjectAdditional info. (or verb if ‘to be’ is an auxiliary)
Whatis your name?   
Whywassheso tired?
How longisyour brothergoing to stay in Chicago?
Ishefrom Mexico?

Structure 2: Using all other verbs

Question word(s)AuxiliarySubjectVerbAdditional info.
Where did you learn to drive? 
How longwillshestay in California?
Doesyour fatherlikefootball?
How many timeshaveyoumether?

Nearly all questions in English fall into these two structures. Learning them, and practicing them, is a priority for all learners of English.

The major difference between using the verb ‘to be’ and all other verbs in questions is that the verb ‘to be’ does not use an auxiliary.

The closed question

When a question doesn’t include a question word (for example, ‘Is he from Mexico?’) it is because it is a yes/no question, also known as a closed question.

These types of questions are great when you are looking for a quick, straight answer.

Indirect questions

English is a very indirect language, and native English speakers generally don’t respond well to questions that are too direct in nature. Therefore, indirect questions are vitally important.

How to make indirect questions

1)    Open-ended indirect questions using the verb ‘to be’

Indirect phraseQuestion wordSubjectVerb ‘to be’
Could you tell me where the bank is?  
Would you mind telling mewhat your names  are? 
Do you knowwhat the answer is?

2)    Open-ended indirect questions using all other verbs

Indirect phraseQuestion wordSubjectverb
Do you know  what time  the movie starts? 
Would it be possible to tell mewhere you  bought that watch?  
Would you knowwhyshedidn’t eat tonight?

3)    Closed indirect questions (sometimes using would + past tense to emphasize politeness)

Indirect phraseIfclause
Would you mind if I borrowed this pen? 
Would it be okay ifI sat here?
Do you mindifI don’t come to the party?

Indirect questions work really well in English because they put the respondent at ease. Use them as frequently as possible. That said when you need to get to the point, do it!

Other important considerations when asking questions

There is more to asking a great question than getting the structure right, of course. Here are some other important considerations when forming questions:

·  Judge your timing. There is a time and a place for questions. And there is a time and a place to just listen and observe. Judge the right time to ask your question, as incorrect timing may not lead to the type of answer you were looking for.

·  Emphasize the positive. All people respond better to positivity, so try to pitch your question with this in mind. For example, “What went wrong?” could be replaced with “What can we do to make this right?”

·  Dig deeper with further questions. The lead-off question might not be the only one you need to ask. Depending on what the answer is, don’t be afraid to delve a little deeper to help you really understand. Just because you have asked the question, it doesn’t mean that you should just accept the answer as it is. “Could you give me an example?” is a really powerful follow-up question.

·  Pitch your question just right with the language you use. Don’t be too technical if you are speaking with a non-technical person. Don’t be too informal in your language if you are dealing with high-level management. Think about your audience at all times.

·  Don’t interrupt. This is a frequently made mistake. Once you have asked the question, let the other person respond. Don’t interrupt, and don’t dig into their answer until they have finished speaking. Prepare good follow-up questions for when the time comes that they have finished speaking and make sure that they don’t answer one of those follow-up questions in their initial response because that means you weren’t listening.

·  Listen. There is nothing worse than failing to listen to the answer that is given.

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