Interrogatives

An interrogative is one of the four basic sentence functions in the English language. It's most commonly used to ask a question.

Interrogatives Interrogatives

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    There are four main sentence functions in the English language. They are Declaratives (e.g. The cat is on the mat ), Imperatives (e.g. Get the cat off the mat ), Interrogatives (e.g. Where is the cat?), and Exclamatives (e.g What a cute cat!).

    Be careful not to confuse sentence functions (also referred to as sentence types) with sentence structures. Sentence functions describe the purpose of a sentence, whereas a sentence structure is how the sentence is formed ie simple sentences, complex sentences, compound sentences, and compound-complex sentences.

    Interrogative sentences

    Interrogative sentences are sentences that ask a question. Typically, they begin with a WH question word (e.g. who, what, where, when, why and how) or an auxiliary verb such as do, have, or be. These are sometimes referred to as helping verbs. An interrogative always ends with a question mark.

    Why do we use interrogative sentences?

    We use interrogative sentences frequently in both written and spoken language. In fact, they're one of the most commonly used types of sentences. The basic use of an interrogative sentence is to ask a question.

    We usually ask interrogatives to get a yes or no answer, ask about preferences, or request additional information.

    What are some examples of interrogatives?

    Let's take a look at some common examples of interrogative sentences, as well as some famous ones you may recognize:

    • What is your name?

    • Do you prefer pasta or pizza?

    • Did you have a good weekend?

    • You are coming tonight, aren't you?

    • Why so serious?

    • Are you talkin 'to me?

    • You don't remember me, do you?

    • What do you think about the latest Marvel movie?

    • Doesn't this taste great?

    What are the different types of interrogatives?

    You may have noticed that the previous examples are all formed slightly differently and require different types of answers. Some of the questions can be answered with a simple yes or no, whereas others require a far more detailed answer. This is because there are a few different types of interrogative.

    Yes / No interrogatives

    Yes / no interrogatives are generally the most straightforward questions as they elicit a simple yes or no response.

    • Do you live here?

    • Did you have a good time?

    • Have you left yet?

    Yes / No interrogatives always begin with an auxiliary verb, such as do, have, or be. Auxiliary verbs are sometimes referred to as helping verbs. This is because they 'help out' the main verb; in this case, they help create a question.

    Alternative interrogatives

    Alternative interrogatives are questions that offer two or more alternative answers. They are often used to elicit someone's preference.

    • Would you prefer tea or coffee?

    • Do you want to meet at mine or yours?

    • Should we go to the cinema or go bowling?

    Just like Yes / No interrogatives, alternative interrogatives also begin with an auxiliary verb.

    Interrogative Tea or coffee StudySmarterFig 1. Tea or coffee?

    WH- interrogatives

    WH-interrogatives are, you guessed it, questions beginning with WH words. These are Who, What, Where, When, Why, and the black sheep of the family, How. These questions elicit an open-ended response and are typically used when asking for additional information.

    • What are you doing this weekend?

    • Where is the bathroom?

    • How do you use this app?

    Tag questions

    Tag questions are short questions tagged onto the end of a declarative sentence. We usually use tag questions to ask for confirmation.

    • We forgot the milk, didn't we?

    • James plays the guitar, doesn't he?

    • You aren't from Manchester, are you?

    Notice how the tag repeats the auxiliary verb from the main statement but changes it to positive or negative.

    How can I form an interrogative sentence?

    Forming interrogatives will likely come to you quite naturally. However, it is always good to understand exactly how we form different types of interrogative.

    Here is the basic form (structure) of an interrogative sentence:

    auxiliary verb+subject+main verb
    DoyouLikecoffee?
    CanshespeakJapanese?
    DoyouwantPizzaor pasta?

    When using WH question words, they always go at the beginning of the sentence, like this:

    WH wordauxiliary verb+subject+main verb
    WhatdoessheLike?
    Whereisthe exit?

    The basic structure of a tag question is:

    Positive statementNegative tag
    Adele is great,isn't she?
    Negative statementPositive tag
    You don't want ice,do you?

    Remember: Interrogatives always end with a question mark.

    Interrogatives question marks StudySmarterFig. 2 - Interrogatives always end in question marks.

    What is a negative interrogative sentence?

    A negative interrogative is a question that has been made negative by adding the word 'not'. The word 'not' is often contracted with an auxiliary verb.

    For example, don't, aren't, isn't, and haven't. We usually use negative interrogatives when we expect a specific answer or want to emphasize a point. Let's take a look at some examples.

    Where haven't you looked?

    Here, a direct question is being asked. The person asking the question is expecting a direct response.

    Don't you have a phone?

    Here, the person asking the question is expecting a specific answer. They are assuming that the person does have a phone.

    Who hasn't seen Game of Thrones?

    Here, a negative interrogative is being used to emphasize a point. The person asking the question emphasizes the fact that a lot of people have seen Game of Thrones.

    Sometimes, people use negative interrogatives as a rhetorical question. These can be tricky to spot and it is not always clear what is a rhetorical question and what isn't.

    Let's take a look at some examples of positive and negative interrogatives.

    Positive interrogativesNegative interrogatives
    Are you ready?Aren't you ready?
    Do you drink milk?Don't you drink milk?
    Do you want some help?Don't you want any help?

    Is a rhetorical question an interrogative?

    In short, no, rhetorical questions are not interrogatives. Remember how we explained that interrogative sentences are questions that expect an answer; well, rhetorical questions do not require an answer.

    Rhetorical questions go unanswered because there may be no answer to the question or because the answer is very obvious. We use rhetorical questions to create a dramatic effect or to make a point, and they are commonly found in literature.

    Take a look at some examples of well-known rhetorical questions:

    • Do pigs fly?

    • Why me?

    • What's not to like?

    • Who doesn't like chocolate?

    • 'What's in a name?' - (Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, 1597)

    Interrogatives - Key takeaways

    • An interrogative is one of the four basic sentence functions in the English language.

    • An interrogative sentence is another term for a direct question and usually requires an answer.

    • There are four main types of interrogative questions: Yes / no interrogatives, alternative interrogatives, WH-interrogatives, and tag questions.

    • An interrogative always ends with a question mark. Interrogatives typically start with a WH-question word or an auxiliary verb.

    • Negative interrogatives can be used to ask literal questions, emphasize or point, or highlight an expected answer. Rhetorical questions are not interrogatives.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Interrogatives

    What is an interrogative?

    To put it simply, an interrogative is a question.

    What is an example of an interrogative sentence?

    Here are a few examples of interrogative sentences:

    'Where is the cat?'

    'Did it rain today?'

    'You don't like cheese, do you?'

    What does interrogate mean?

    Interrogate is a verb. It means to ask someone questions, usually in an aggressive or demanding way.

    What are interrogative pronouns?

    An interrogative pronoun is a question word that takes the place of unknown information. They are Who, Whom, What, Which, and Whose. 

    For example: 

    Whose car is this?

    Which sport do you prefer?

    What is an interrogative word?

    An interrogative word, often referred to as a question word, is a function word that asks a question. Common examples include Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

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