Interrogative Sentences: What Are Interrogative Sentences? Definition and Examples

By
Carly Forsaith,
updated on
May 8, 2023

You use interrogative sentences all the time. But do you know what they are? If you're unsure, this article will help. We're going to cover all the basics for this type of sentence.

In short:

  • An interrogative sentence is a question. 

What Are Interrogative Sentences?

Interrogative sentences allow you to ask a question that has the purpose of eliciting information from someone. You can use interrogative sentences to request absolutely any type of information.

  • They are one of four types of sentences—the other three being declarative, exclamatory, and imperative.

Here are some examples of interrogative sentences:

What is your name?

How are you feeling today?

Would you like sweet or savory pancakes?

Interrogative sentences are not only a way to elicit information, but they're also a great tool to:

  • learn more about a person ("Do you have any siblings?")
  • make small talk ("Isn't the weather great today?")
  • show another person that you're interested in their opinion ("What are your thoughts on the topic?")
  • get the reader/listener thinking ("How many others might be suffering the same circumstances?")
  • get them engaging with what you're saying ("What can we do about this issue?")
  • introduce a topic ("Want to learn about interrogative sentences?")

And the other great thing about interrogative sentences? You can use them in any tense!

See for yourself:

Past indefiniteDid you know him?

Past continuous: What prize were you competing for?

Past perfect: What price had you quoted?

Past perfect continuous: Since when had it been raining?

Present indefinite: Who are you?

Present continuous: Are you enjoying your stay?

Present perfect: What have you done?

Present perfect: What have you been doing?

Future indefinite: Will I see you tonight at the conference?

Future continuous: When will you be seeing him?

Future perfect: When will you have finished the book? 

Future perfect continuous: How long will you have been working here? 

Types of Interrogative Sentences

Interrogative sentences are pretty straightforward to get your head around. I'm sure you won't have any trouble at all using them.

The one thing you do need to know, though, is that there are different types:

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

I will also talk about indirect questions, although they're not technically interrogative sentences.

  • The first thing to know when forming your own interrogative sentences is that they usually contain an auxiliary verb or the verb 'to be.' If they don't, you should add the verb 'to do.'

The other thing to know is that interrogative sentences always end with a question mark.

Yes/No Questions

Yes/no questions, also known as closed questions, as you might have guessed, are questions where the answer is either a 'yes' or a 'no.' The person answering only has a choice between two answers. This type of question is great for simple surveys or making small talk with someone.

Here's how you form them:

[Auxiliary verb or 'be'] + [subject] + [main verb or adjective] + [rest of sentence] + [question mark]

And here are some examples:

Are you happy to be here?

Have you ever been ice skating? 

Can everybody hear me?

'Or Questions'

When you ask an 'or question,' you're giving your interlocutor two or more responses to choose from. You're giving them options, which can make the question easier to answer, but doesn't leave much room for creativity, so be sure to use these kinds of questions in the proper context.

Here's how to form one:

[Auxiliary Verb] + [Subject] + [Main Verb] + [rest of sentence] + [question mark]

And here are some examples:

Do you prefer the beach or the countryside?

Should we get Italian or Chinese?

Would you rather watch sports or play sports?

Top Tip! Notice how the last two examples use the modal verbs 'should' and 'would,' which are a type of auxiliary verb and perfectly acceptable to use in interrogative sentences.

Open-Ended Questions

While closed questions and 'or questions' leave the interlocutor with only two options to choose from for their answer, open-ended questions - also known as 'wh questions' - leave it open. The person can answer whatever they want without restriction.

With these kinds of questions, sometimes there will be only one possible answer, and other times there will be many. They are great if you want to get someone talking or you're not sure what information you're looking for; you just know you want more.

They're called 'wh questions' because they usually start with 'wh words,' like:

Here's the formula for creating an open-ended question:

['wh' word] + [auxiliary verb or be] + [subject] + [main verb] + [rest of sentence] + [question mark]

Here are some examples:

Where shall we have lunch today?

What made you decide to apply for this internship?

Why do you love working your job so much? 

Note that they don't always follow this exact formula. Look at this sentence that uses an adverb in place of a main verb:

Why are you here so early?

Also, you don't always have to use 'wh' words. Here are some examples of open-ended questions:

If you were to sign up for this course, would that help you achieve your goals?

How would you feel about seeing a therapist?

And even "wh questions" sometimes only have one possible answer.

For example:

When is your birthday?

Tag Questions

Tag questions allow you to make a question out of a statement. Yep, they are formed just like a regular declarative sentence, with a question tagged onto the end, which is why they're called 'tag questions.'

[Declarative sentence] + [auxiliary verb] + [subject pronoun] + [question mark]

The thing to remember is that if the statement is positive, the tag question should be negative, and vice-versa. And to make the tag question, you use the auxiliary verb from the statement.

Case in point:

You don't know where the pharmacy is, do you?

They've already finished the project, haven't they?

We're not leaving today, are we?

If there is no auxiliary verb in the statement, use the verb 'do' in the appropriate form and tense.

She goes to the same school as us, doesn't she?

I jump higher than you, don't I?

He seems a little sad, doesn't he?

Rhetorical Questions

Rhetorical questions aren't meant to be answered because the answer is implied. They are asked to provoke a reaction, make an effect, or even persuade.

There's no specific formula for a rhetorical question because they can be any of the four types of questions we've already covered. In fact, I'm going to show you an example of a rhetorical question for each type.

  • 'Yes/no' question:
    If you prick us, do we not bleed?
  • 'Or question:'
    You can either get dressed, or we're canceling the party, so which is it going to be?
  • Open-ended question:
    What would I do without you?
  • Tag question:
    You want to arrive on time, don't you?

Indirect Questions

Indirect questions are not actually interrogative sentences; they are declarative ones. But I wanted to mention them here because they can often be mistaken for one.

Indirect speech is a tool used in narration. Its purpose is to report what someone said. So instead of the person that actually said it saying it, it's someone else telling another person that someone said it. Make sense? I know that sounded a little confusing.

So I'm going to show you an example:

Joe would like to know if you'll go out with him. 

The direct question would look something like this:

Will Suzie go out with me?

In the direct form, it's an interrogative sentence. In the indirect form, it's a statement. So remember not to confuse the two. An easy way to know for sure is to remember that an interrogative sentence always ends with a question mark.

Here are some more examples:

The boss asked if you could stay late tonight.

We need to know if you have any dietary requirements.

Concluding Thoughts on Interrogative Sentences

That brings us to the end of this article on interrogative sentences. I do hope you've found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Interrogative sentences are one of four types of sentences.
  • There are five types of interrogative sentences.
  • Always use a question mark with a question.
  • They always contain an auxiliary verb or the verb 'do.' 

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love our Grammar Book, a free online database of grammar articles. You'll learn tons of grammar concepts that are boiled down in an easy-to-understand way.

Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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