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Interrogative Sentences Explained

Updated on February 24, 2023Grammar

Interrogative sentences are sentences that ask a question, typically to request information. They’re identified by the question mark (?) that comes at the end of the sentence instead of a period.

The tricky thing about interrogative sentences is that they don’t follow the same rules as other sentences. Their word order and use of auxiliary verbs are different, which can lead to confusion.

So below, we explain the rules on how to use them and share some interrogative sentence examples so you can see how they work. But first, let’s take a closer look at the interrogative sentence definition.

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What is an interrogative sentence?

If you want to ask a question, you still need to phrase your words as a proper sentence. Sentences that ask a question are called interrogative sentences.

What is confusing you?

Are you free this weekend?

Do you like ballet?

Interrogative sentences are one of the four types of sentences, along with declarative, exclamatory, and imperative. While each of the sentence types is unique, only interrogative sentences change the typical word order of a sentence and make use of the auxiliary verb do, which we explain below.

What is the purpose of an interrogative sentence?

The purpose of interrogative sentences and questions in general is to request information. The speaker would like to know something, so they ask a question to learn the answer.

Where are we meeting?

Interrogative sentences can also make your audience think more about what you’re saying and become more engaged with your ideas. In this sense, interrogative sentences make great topic sentences to introduce a new concept.

Who was financing the lobbyists? Our reporters tracked down the source of the payments . . .

Although a question’s main goal is to request information, questions can also be rhetorical. Unlike other interrogative sentences, rhetorical questions are not meant to be answered. Instead, they are asked to make a point or produce a dramatic effect.

Wouldn’t you celebrate too if you won?

Rules for interrogative sentences, with examples

1 Interrogative sentences always end in a question mark

In writing, interrogative sentences are easy to identify because they all end with the same punctuation: the question mark.

When does the game start?

Be careful of indirect questions, however. These are not actually questions but statements about people asking questions. As statements, they end in a period.

She wants to know when the game starts.

2 If there are no auxiliary verbs or the verb be, use the auxiliary verb do

Interrogative sentences usually have an auxiliary verb or use the verb be. If they don’t, you have to add a form of the auxiliary verb do.

Because be is the most used verb in English, a lot of questions use it as either the main verb or an auxiliary verb. That includes all its forms: am, is, and are and its past tense, was and were.

Is this your card?

Who was at the door?

In the examples above, the main verb is a form of be, so we don’t need to add any new words.

This also works for the continuous tenses, which use be as an auxiliary verb.

Are you looking for someone?

When were you planning on telling me?

In the first example, the main verb is look, but because it uses the present continuous tense, the verb be is present as an auxiliary verb. Again, we don’t need to add any new words. The second example is similar but uses the past continuous.

If an interrogative sentence uses any other verb besides be, and if there’s no other auxiliary verb, you must add a form of do. That includes its third-person singular, does; its past tense, did; and its past participle, done.

Did you see my post?

Where does the rainbow end?

In the first example, the main verb is see. However, because the sentence doesn’t include be or an auxiliary verb, we must add a form of do (in this case, the past tense did).

Even if you use the word do as the main verb, you still need to add a second do as an auxiliary verb to questions.

Do you do your own nails?

3 The auxiliary verb comes first, then the subject, followed by the main verb

The structure of interrogative sentences is perhaps the most confusing part. For other sentences, the subject comes before the verb, but with interrogative sentences, the auxiliary verb comes before the subject, and the main verb goes after.

[auxiliary verb] + [subject] + [main verb]

Let’s look at a normal declarative sentence, where the subject comes before the verb. This sentence has the present perfect tense, which uses the auxiliary verb has.

Kayla has stayed home since school ended.

To turn that sentence into a question, we have to rearrange the words, putting the auxiliary verb first but leaving the main verb last. The rest of the sentence is unchanged.

Has Kayla stayed home since school ended?

If the sentence uses a form of do as an auxiliary verb, place it before the subject.

Does Kayla stay home often?

If the sentence uses a modal auxiliary verb like should, can, or might, place the modal verb before the subject, just like other auxiliary verbs.

Should we visit Kayla?

If the sentence uses be as its main verb without auxiliary verbs, then you still place it before the subject.

Is Kayla home?

A lot of verb tenses in English use auxiliary verbs, including the simple future (will), perfect tenses (have, has, and had), and the continuous tenses (be). You can see a complete list of auxiliary verbs here.

4 Use question words for the part of the interrogative sentence that’s unknown

Interrogative sentences usually involve a piece of information that’s unknown—after all, that’s why someone is asking a question. To fill in these unknown parts when asking a question, we use question words like what or why, also known as interrogative words or WH words.

Each question word represents a different type of unknown information. When you’re asking a question, just replace the missing information with the correct type of WH word from the list below. (You’ll notice that how also counts as a WH word because it has both h and w, and elicits information.)

  • who represents people
  • what represents things and actions
  • where represents places
  • when represents time
  • why represents reasons
  • which represents options in a choice
  • whose represents a person in regards to ownership or possession
  • how represents method or manner
  • how + an adjective or adverb represents a degree or amount
  • how much or how many represent a number or quantity

If you’re using a question word in your interrogative sentence, you still use the Auxiliary VerbSubjectMain Verb structure. However, the question word comes at the beginning, as in What are you doing?

[WH word] + [auxiliary verb] + [subject] + [main verb]

What + are + you + doing?

If you ever get confused about the correct structure of an interrogative sentence, use

our free sentence checker to see any mistakes and learn how to correct them.

Types of interrogative sentences

There are four types of interrogative sentences or questions, each with a particular structure. Often the type you use depends on what information you want, such as a yes/no or a selection from choices. We discuss the details below, but here’s a quick list of the four types of interrogative sentences:

  • Yes/no questions
  • Or questions
  • Open-ended questions
  • Tag questions

1  Yes/no questions

As you can guess, yes/no interrogative sentences are questions where the answer is either yes or no. The rest of the information, such as the subject and action, is known, but the speaker is requesting either an affirmative or negative response.

Yes/no questions always start with either the verb be or an auxiliary verb, such as do, have, can, or will. Because the question is not seeking new information but instead looking to confirm or deny what is already known, yes/no questions don’t use WH words.

[Auxiliary verb or be] + [subject] + [main verb]

Do + you + speak Tagalog?

Yes/no interrogative sentence examples

Are you going to the show later?

Have you been working out?

Can I help you with that?

2  Or questions

Interrogative sentences with the conjunction or offer a choice and request a selection. They are structured like yes/no questions, with or separating the options.

Do you want the dressing on the salad or the side?

If you have more than two options, use or only before the final one.

Should we get pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, or plain?

Or questions can also be compound sentences if the choice involves two separate clauses. In this case, each clause follows the same Auxiliary Verb–Subject–Main Verb structure as yes/no questions.

Can you walk, or should I carry you?

Keep in mind that if you use either or neither, it is a yes/no question. With either/neither, no choice is offered.

Q: Have you either graduated high school or passed your GED test?

A: Yes, I did one of those.

Or interrogative sentence examples

Are you talking to him or me?

Should I stay or go now?

Will you hang out with us willingly, or do I need to drag you?

3 Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions request certain unknown information, which is replaced by a WH word in the interrogative sentence. You can review the list above to see which WH words replace what kind of information. Because any information could be unknown, the answer to open-ended questions could potentially be anything except yes or no.

Open-ended questions follow the same Auxiliary Verb–Subject–Main Verb structure as other questions, however the WH word usually comes first, before the auxiliary verb.

[WH word] + [auxiliary verb or be] + [subject] + [main verb]

What + does + this button + do?

Open-ended interrogative sentence examples

Where is Timbuktu on a map?

When did you get a haircut?

How do you read so fast?

4 Tag questions

Tag questions are different from other types of interrogative sentences. They are used when you think something is correct but want confirmation. What makes them different is that they are structured like normal declarative sentences, with a quick question “tagged on” at the end.

You’ve ridden a horse before, haven’t you?

To make a tag question, start with a regular statement. You can create the tag by using an auxiliary verb or the verb be and a pronoun for the subject. Don’t forget to add a comma between the statement and the tag.

[statement] + , + [auxiliary verb or be] + [subject pronoun]

You’re not my Tinder date, are you?

If the main verb is not be and there are no other auxiliary verbs, use do in the tag like other interrogative sentences.

His mom drives him to school, doesn’t she?

The tag also uses the same tense as the statement. If the statement is in the past tense, use words like did, had, was, or were in the tag.

His mom drove him to school, didn’t she?

There are three important rules to remember with tag questions. First, the positivity and negativity of the statement and tag are reversed. If the statement is positive, the tag is negative; if the statement is negative, the tag is positive.

You wouldn’t tell on me, would you?

Second, use a contraction if the tag is negative.

My sister will watch the recital, won’t she?

Third, if the subject is the pronoun I and the tag is negative, use aren’t instead of amn’t.

I’m in the wrong classroom, aren’t I?

However, if the tag uses I and is positive, you can still use am.

I’m not in the wrong classroom, am I?

Tag question examples

You low-key like studying, don’t you?

We’re meeting at the clock tower, aren’t we?

I shouldn’t text first, should I?

Interrogative sentences FAQs

What is an interrogative sentence?

An interrogative sentence is a sentence that asks a question.

What is the purpose of an interrogative sentence?

Like all questions, interrogative sentences are mainly for requesting information. You can also use them to further engage your audience by making them think more about what you’re saying. Rhetorical questions, which are not meant to be answered, can be used to make a point or produce a dramatic effect.

How are interrogative sentences structured?

Unlike in other sentences, in interrogative sentences the auxiliary verb comes first, then the subject, and last the main verb. If there’s a question word like who or what, that usually goes at the beginning, before the auxiliary verb.

What are some examples of interrogative sentences?

What are you doing? Did you break my favorite mug? Will you glue it back together?

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