An interrogative sentence asks a direct question and is punctuated at the end with a question mark. It is one of the four basic types of sentences, and it's a highly useful one. Could you imagine life without questions?
Interrogative sentences allow you to gather information and clear up confusion as well as engage in interesting conversations with others. It's also useful in writing as an organizational tool; for example, you can set up questions as headers and answer them to explain a concept in more detail in expository writing.
Like all complete sentences in English, an interrogative sentence must contain a subject and a verb. However, here the word order is usually changed to put the verb before the subject. For example:
- When is the deadline?
In this sentence, "deadline" is the subject and "is" is the verb. The verb comes before the subject in a direct question.
An open-ended question usually begins with a "question word" in English:
So start your open-ended interrogative sentence with a question word, then continue the sentence with the verb and the subject. Examine the examples below to get a feel for how this works in practice:
- What is the right way to iron a shirt?
- When are the best days to go to the mall?
- Where is your new cat?
- Why is the sky blue?
- How are you today?
In some cases, the question word itself serves as the subject of the sentence, because the subject is unknown — in fact, answering the question will provide the subject. For example:
- Who is the best shortstop in the Major Leagues?
- To whom shall I give the test results?
- Whose socks are these?
- Which is the best route to the circus?
Often times an interrogative sentence requires a helping verb. In these cases, the subject comes between the helping verb and the main verb. For example:
- Why did Suzie leave so late?
In this sentence, the subject "Suzie" is sandwiched between the helping verb "did" and the main verb "leave." This happens frequently in direct questions:
- Who did you give the last cookie to?
- Why was she so grumpy yesterday?
- Where did I leave my car keys?
In addition to the open-ended interrogative sentences described above, there are a few other types of interrogatives.
These questions are designed to be answered simply with either an affirmative or a negative. They start with a verb or helping verb followed by the subject. For example:
- Are your shoes on?
- Did you eat lunch yet?
- Was the movie enjoyable?
- Did the girls get to school on time?
- Were you too late?
These are "or" questions that are designed to offer one or more choices in the context of the question. They also begin with a verb or a helping verb. For example:
- Would you like cookies or a banana for dessert?
- Is she mad or just tired?
- Do you think I should go home or stay a little longer?
- Is the dog okay, or should we go to the vet?
- Will you be home soon, or should I eat without you?
Tag questions are added on to the end of declarative sentences. A declarative sentence makes a statement and follows standard subject-verb word order, but you can add a short question offset by a comma to make it an interrogative fragment. Tag questions usually ask for confirmation. For example:
- She's an excellent violinist, isn't she?
- Tidy up the kitchen, won't you?
- There's no food in your bag, is there?
- You're a cute one, aren't you?
- You think you're so smart, don't you?
Whether open-ended or not, interrogative sentences always ask direct questions. It should be noted that this is different from indirect questions, which are declarative sentences that report a question that was asked in another context. For example:
- He asked if I still wanted to go to the show.
The word "if" sets up the indirect question that is embedded in this declarative sentence. The purpose of this sentence is to report that he asked something,
it is not to ask the question "Do you still want to go to the show?".
- I was wondering if I could buy you dinner.
When you want an answer to a question, it's crucial to ask it directly in your writing or speaking, instead of creating an indirect question like this. While your meaning may still be clear, it is a little rambling and not technically an interrogative sentence.
To eliminate confusion, begin a question with a question word or verb and end it with a question mark to make sure you have really made an interrogative sentence. These direct questions will lead you to the answers you seek in the most straightforward manner.
What next? Read about declarative, imperative and exclamatory sentences in our Types of Sentences article.