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.

Wh- questions can be categorized according to the purpose they serve for an asker. Basically, there are three types:

  1. information questions,
  2. repeat please questions, and
  3. elaborate please questions.

Information wh- questions are the basic type. They are used to request information that has not been previously mentioned, and they take the different forms considered thus far.

Unlike yes/no questions, wh- information questions always contain a presupposition. For instance, when we ask the question What did John do? we presume that John did in fact do something.

Question Presumed Information
1a) How did they do it?They did it somehow.
1b) Where did John go? John went somewhere.
1c) Whose book was stolen? Someone’s book was stolen.
1d) What has he done? He has done something.
1e) Who is doing it? Someone is doing it.

Information wh- questions have up-fall intonation, as shown in 2a), 2b), and 2c) or down-rise intonation, as shown in 4d) and 4e).

Repeat please questions are often uttered when the asker either did not hear or understand the information she or he was given or is having difficulty accepting it. This type of wh- question frequently functions as a request for verification.

Repeat please questions can have two word orders: question word order with the wh- word fronted, as in 3a), or normal declarative statement word order, shown in 3b). Both have rising intonation. A greater degree of stress on the wh- word and a higher rise in the intonation patterns signal a greater degree of surprise on the part of the asker.

Elaborate please questions are used when the asker has already been told something but needs more information regarding what was said. A question is then posed about someone, something, or somewhere mentioned by the speaker.

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In 4), Kim is trying to sell his car, and Fred has found a prospective buyer. He tells Kim that this person will come and look at the car tomorrow. Kim wants more information about the time that has been arranged for the inspection. In 5), the police officer needs more precise information about the person before he or she can act.

Elaborate please questions can either consist of a longer sentence such as 6a) or a shorter answer such as 6b). The wh- word is always stressed, and questions consisting of two or more words carry up-fall intonation.

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