Alternative Questions: Mode of Formation & Examples

Because intonation is so important in forming questions in English, some example questions in this entry are accompanied by diagrams that show their intonation patterns. The diagram is a line that traces the pitch movement throughout the question.

Alternative questions present a choice between at least two alternative answers. Each of the alternatives in the question is stressed, as in 1a).

Notice that the intonation pattern of an alternative question is the same as the pattern used when listing a series of options following a standard wh- question, as in 2).

Any positive yes/no question can be turned into an alternative question by adding or and a negative tag using an auxiliary or the appropriately tensed form of do as in 3a) and 3b).

Shortened tags consisting of not, as in 3c) are common. These alternative questions with tags can carry a petulant or annoyed tone.