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Auxiliary Verbs and Lexical Verbs in Questions

To make a question out of a statement that has a verb phrase in it, put the auxiliary verb of the verb phrase in front of the subject of the verb.

  • They can see us.  Can they see us?
  • Maria is coming too. Is Maria coming too?
  • Her husband has left her.  Has her husband left her?
  • We should ask her to come.  Should we ask her to come?
  • We must go and visit Granny today.  Must we go and visit Granny today?
  • They are intending to leave tomorrow.  Are they intending to leave tomorrow?

Similarly, in questions formed with who?, what?, where?, why?, how?, etc:

  • The boys are going into town. Where are the boys going?
  • The girls are going too.  Why are the girls going too?
  • He is painting a picture.  What is he painting a picture of?
  • She can have one biscuit.  Which biscuit can she have?
  • Mice could get in through that hole.  How could mice get in through that hole?

If there is more than one auxiliary verb in the verb phrase, move the firstone to in front of the subject to form a question.

  • Josie will be coming with us.  Will Josie be coming with us?
  • The joiners will have finished by then.  Will the joiners have finished by then?
  • She has been thinking about getting a new job.  Has she been thinking about getting a new job?
  • They might have forgotten about it.  Might they have forgotten about it?
  • She could have prevented the accident.  Could she have prevented the accident?

Lexical verbs cannot form questions on their own. There must always be an auxiliary verb (an operator) in a question. When there is no other auxiliary verb in the sentence, the verb do is brought in to be the operator, followed by the base form of the lexical verb.

  • They saw us.  Did they see us?
  • Her mother likes flowers.  Does her mother like flowers?
  • The girls went to the cinema. Did the girls go to the cinema?
  • Their dogs bark a lot.  Do their dogs bark a lot?
  • She sings and dances. Does she sing and dance?
  • The principal scolded the girls.  Did the principal scold the girls?

Similarly in questions formed with who?, what?, where?, why?, how?, etc:

  • The boys bought some videos. Where did the boys buy the videos? What videos did the boys buy?
  • My aunt arrived yesterday. When exactly did your aunt arrive?
  • She broke the window deliberately. But why did she break it?
  • My baby sister wants a biscuit. Which biscuit does your baby sister want?

Note that, here again, if the wh- word or phrase is the subject of the sentence, the subject of the sentence remains in front of the lexical verb and there is therefore no need for an operator in the question:

  • Which dog bit you?
  • Who broke, the window?
  • What sort of animal goes miaow?

Be and Have:

The lexical verbs be and have are exceptions to the above rule.

Be never uses an operator to make a question. To make a question with be, simply put the verb in front of the subject of the sentence:

  • I am a complete fool. Am I a complete fool?
  • Her mother is that famous artist. Is her mother that famous artist?
  • John and Susan were a bit worried. Were John and Susan a bit worried?

The same applies in sentences beginning with there:

  • There is more than one way of doing this. Is there more than one way of doing this?
  • There was a fox in the garden today. Was there a fox in the garden today?

Have can make questions with or without an operator:

  • Have you any money? OR Do you have any money?
  • Had he anyone to help him? OR Did he have anyone to help him?

Usage with have is slightly complicated.

In the sense of possessing or carrying something, there are three possibilities:

  • ‘Have …?, ‘Do … have …?’ or ‘Have … got…?’:
  • Have you enough food with you?
  • Has he enough food with him? OR
  • Do you have enough food with you?
  • Does he have enough food with him? OR
  • Have you got enough food with you?
  • Has he got enough food with him?

All three are possible in British English. American English prefers the construction with do.

In the past tense, the usual form is ‘Did… have …?’:

  • Did you have enough food with you?
  • Did he have enough food with him?

In the sense of experiencing something or doing something, especially doing it habitually, the forms to use are ‘Do … have …?’, ‘Did… have…?’:

  • Did you have any trouble finding us?
  • Did they have any trouble finding us?
  • Do you have coffee or tea for breakfast?
  • Does he have coffee for breakfast?

Notice the difference between ‘Do … have …?’ and ‘Have … got?’:

  • ‘Do you have milk on your cornflakes? means ‘Do you usually put milk on your cornflakes?’
  • ‘Have vou got milk on your cornflakes? means ‘Is there milk on your cornflakes at the moment?’

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