Knowing how to ask questions in English is important, whether you're a tourist who needs directions or an advanced learner using English with colleagues in another country. There are many kinds of questions learners will encounter, and one of the most common is yes/no questions.
Yes/no questions are questions that can be answered with yes or no and are different from questions asking for more specific information (like Where is the museum? or When is the meeting?). Here are some examples of yes/no questions:
- Are they your parents?
- Would you like to go to the park with me?
- Does she play guitar?
There are "formulas" you can use to help you know what order to put words in for yes/no questions. Here's how they work!
In this post:
Yes/no questions: getting started
In English, there are 2 categories of yes/no questions, depending on what kind of verb is in the question. Each category has its own rules and formulas for rearranging the words to form a question.
First, you'll need to know the statement version of the question. You can do this by imagining the "yes" response. Next, find the first verb in the sentence. (The first verb is in bold in these examples.)
- (Yes) they were making dinner.
- (Yes) his mother goes to France often.
- (Yes) we made a reservation for tonight.
If this first verb is a form of to be, a modal, or an auxiliary, you'll use the Category 1 formula, and for all other verbs, you'll use the Category 2 formula.
1️⃣ Category 1: to be, modals, and auxiliary verbs
This category includes 3 types of verbs:
- Forms of the verb to be. This verb has the forms am, is, and are in the present tense and was and were in the past tense.
- Modals. In English, modal verbs include can, could, should, and would.
- Auxiliary verbs. Also called "helping verbs," these verbs include will to show future (as in will go) and have/has/had for different past tenses (like have gone).
You can read more about these kinds of verbs at the end of this post!
2️⃣ Category 2: all other verbs
That’s a big category! 😅
Once you know which category the verb is in, you can use the right formula to turn a statement into a question!
Category 1: English yes/no questions with to be, modals, and auxiliaries
This category includes questions with a form of to be, modals, and auxiliaries. Check the end of this post for more information and examples of these verb types.
For Category 1 yes/no questions, you just have to do one thing: Move the first verb to the beginning of the question. Then comes the subject and then the rest of the sentence.
Here's how you start with a statement and make this one change:
|He is at school.||They were making dinner.||Our friends should have a party.|
|Move the first verb to the beginning of the question||Is he ___ at school||Were they ___ making dinner||Should our friends ___ have a party|
|Final question||Is he at school?||Were they making dinner?||Should our friends have a party?|
Another way to think about this is with a formula: first verb + subject + rest of sentence. (This formula *only works* for these Category 1 verbs.)
|First verb (to be, modal, auxiliary)||Subject||Rest of sentence|
|Should||our friends||have a party|
And that's it! This general rule used to be how all English yes/no questions were formed, but English has changed a lot over the centuries. Now there is a second kind of yes/no question!
Category 2: English yes/no questions with all other verbs
If you are making a yes/no question and the first verb isn't a form of to be, a modal or an auxiliary verb, then you'll need to make 2 changes to form the question:
- Step 1. Add a form of do to the beginning of the question.
- Step 2. Change the main verb to the bare form.
For Step 1, you'll use do or does for the present tense and did for the past tense. Don't think of this question do as the actual verb do meaning—instead it's like a placeholder. The meaning it carries here is to say, "Hey, this is a question!"
For Step 2, you'll use the bare form of the verb—that's the form you find in a dictionary. The bare form is the infinitive without to, so for the infinitive to see, the bare form is just see.
Here's how to apply these 2 rules to a statement to get a yes/no question:
|You like to eat ice cream.||His mother goes to France often.||I did that.|
|1. Add a form of do to the beginning of the question||
Does his mother
|2. Change the main verb to the bare form||Do you like to eat ice cream||Does his mother go to France often||Did I do that|
|Final question||Do you like to eat ice cream?||Does his mother go to France often?||Did I do that?|
The formula here is: a form of do + subject + bare form of verb + rest of the sentence.
|Form of do||Subject||Bare form of main verb||Rest of sentence|
|Do||you||like||to eat ice cream|
|Does||his mother||go||to Franch often|
The hardest part about Category 2 yes/no questions is the main verb: Remember that the main verb changes to its bare form. In a question with the placeholder do, the word do is the verb that matches the subject, and the main verb changes to the bare form. Read more about infinitives and bare forms at the bottom of this post!
Are you ready? Yes, you are! 💪
Yes/no questions in English are really useful: You'll hear them a lot, and you'll be asking them a lot, too! By learning the formulas for the 2 categories of yes/no questions, you'll be able to practice forming these questions with any verb you learn. Can you do it? Yes, you can!
Examples of yes/no questions in English
To be, modals, and auxiliaries
- Are you from Ecuador?
- Is the store open?
- Am I early?
- Are there tickets for 5pm?
- Was the line long?
- Were you looking for the theater?
- Can we check in now?
- Could you bring me more water?
- Would she be able to meet us for ice cream?
- Might they have more availability on Thursday?
- Should he pay for the tour online or in person?
- May I use the hotel telephone?
- Must we make dinner reservations in advance?
- Have you visited Chicago before?
- Has anyone found a brown hat?
- Had he already decided on the itinerary?
- Will you call me when you get home?
- Have they seen the movie yet?
All other verbs
- Do you travel often?
- Did you see the weather report for Monday?
- Do I need to bring my jacket?
- Does the bill include the tip?
- Did we buy ferry tickets for the Statue of Liberty?
More information about English verbs
The verb to be is treated differently from other verbs when it comes to forming questions. It has very irregular conjugations that you'll have to memorize, and being able to recognize the forms of to be will help you form yes/no questions!
Modals are English verbs that are used alongside another verb for actions that are possible or necessary. English modal verbs are special because they never change to match the subject—you don't have to worry about verb endings! Some common modal verbs are can, could, should, and would.
These verbs are also called "helping verbs," because they are paired with another verb or verbs for different tenses—they help the main verb show tense! Will is a helping verb for the future tense, and have/has/had are helping verbs for the different past tenses.
Infinitives and bare forms of verbs
Bare forms of verbs can be thought of as the basic form of a verb—it's the form you'll find in a dictionary. In English, we mark infinitives by adding to to the bare form (to be, to go, to have, etc.), and other languages might have a special prefix or suffix for infinitives (like the -ar, -er, and -ir endings for Spanish infinitives). Because only a few English verb forms have different endings when conjugated (like the -s in walks), many conjugated English verbs look exactly the same as the bare form!
|Infinitive||Bare form||Conjugation for I, you, we, and they||Conguation for he, she, and it|
|to go||go||(I) go||(he) goes|
|to walk||walk||(I) walk||(he) walks|
|to eat||eat||(I) eat||(he) eats|
For Category 2 yes/no questions, where you have to change the main verb to its bare form, this means that sometimes the main verb already looks like the bare form! That can make it extra hard to remember to change the main verb to its bare form.