What is an Interrogative Sentence? Definition, Examples, & More

Exchanging information is one of the main reasons people use the English language (or any language for that matter). To exchange information, we often need to ask and answer questions. While the latter usually requires declarative sentences or statements, the former requires interrogative sentences. In today’s guide, we will define interrogative sentences, explain their function, and expand on the role of interrogative pronouns. So, let’s get started!

Interrogative Sentence Definition

An interrogative sentence asks a question. Interrogative sentences are usually distinguished from other types of sentences with an inverted structure. In other words, the predicate (verb) often comes before the subject. To better understand interrogative sentences in relation to other sentence types, let’s take a closer look at how interrogative sentences compare to declarative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences in English.

4 Types of Sentences in English

There are four basic sentence types in English:

  • Declarative Sentence – A sentence that makes a statement or offers an opinion.
    • The police station is over there.
  • Imperative Sentence – A sentence that issues a directive (demand, request, advice, invitation, or instruction).
    • Bring me a fresh towel, please.
  • Interrogative Sentence – A sentence that asks a question.
    • What do you want to do today?
  • Exclamatory Sentence – A sentence that makes a statement with emotional emphasis (it always ends with an exclamation point).
    • I’m late for school!

Interrogative Sentence Examples

Now, let’s examine some different examples of interrogative sentences:

Pronoun Primary Verb Subject Secondary Verb
What are you doing?

To answer this question, you could say something like this:

Subject Predicate
Pronoun Primary Verb Secondary

Verb

Preposition Determiner Noun
I am going to the mall.

As you can see, a standard declarative statement can answer the question above. When making a declarative statement, the subject usually appears before the main verb. However, when you ask a question, the subject and verb are usually reversed so that the primary verb appears before the subject. Let’s look at a few more examples:

Interrogative Sentence (Question)

Pronoun Primary Verb Subject Secondary Verb Adverb
Why did he arrive late?

Declarative Sentence (Answer)

Subject Predicate
Pronoun Primary Verb Determiner Noun
He missed the bus.

Interrogative Sentence (Question)

Main Verb Subject Secondary Verb Noun
Do you like pizza?

Declarative Sentence (Answer)

Adverbial Clause Subject Predicate
Adverb Pronoun Main Verb
Yes, I do.

Interrogative Sentence (Question)

Adverb Primary Verb Subject Secondary Verb
Where have they traveled?

Declarative Sentence (Answer)

Subject Predicate
Pronoun Primary Verb Secondary Verb Determiner Noun
They have traveled to Europe.

Interrogative Pronouns

You might have noticed that some of the example questions above started with a pronoun. When a question begins with a pronoun, these parts of speech are known as interrogative pronouns. Here are some examples:

  • Who – Refers to a person who is the subject of the question.
    • Who wants to get Chinese for dinner?
  • Whom – Refers to a person who is the object of the question.
    • About whom are you speaking?
  • What – Refers to a thing.
    • What time is it?
  • Which – Refers to a person or a thing.
    • Which shirt do you like best?
  • Whose – Refers to ownership of a thing by a person.
    • Whose car is that?

Interrogative Adverbs

It’s important to note that interrogative pronouns are not a requirement when forming interrogative sentences. There are also many question words that are not pronouns. Some of the most common question words are interrogative adverbs. For example:

  • Why – Refers to the reason for an action or occurrence.
    • Why didn’t you check the tire pressure before we left?
  • Where – Refers to the location of something.
    • Where is the nearest gas station?
  • How – Refers to the way in which an action is done or by what means it can be accomplished.
    • How are we going to get home?
  • When – Refers to the time that an action or event takes place.
    • When will we arrive at the train station?

Rather than asking about specific people or things (subjects and objects), adverbial phrases often ask about actions (verbs). Interrogative adverbs are always immediately followed by the main verb.

Other Question Words

It’s important to note that there are many different ways to ask questions in English. You don’t have to use interrogative pronouns or adverbs at all. In fact, many of the most common questions use auxiliary verbs, modal verbs, or “to be” verbs. These are frequently known as Yes/No questions because there are only two ways to answer them — yes or no! Here are a few examples of interrogative sentences that do not require interrogative pronouns or adverbs:

  • Could you do me a favor?
  • Are you busy?
  • Did he pay for his drink?
  • Will they be ready for the party on time?
  • Should we take a taxi?
  • Can you hold my bag for a second?

Finally, there is one more common type of interrogative sentence that does not require a standard, interrogative part of speech. It is known as a tag question. Tag questions can be rhetorical, meaning that no one is expected to provide an answer. Even when an answer is expected, a tag question simply aims to confirm the validity of something that you (the person asking the question) believe to be true. Here are a few examples:

  • We have enough time to stop by the house first, don’t we?
  • These shoes aren’t very cheap, are they?
  • I should get going, shouldn’t I?
  • They can’t just leave without saying goodbye, can they?
  • He doesn’t know how to swim, does he?
  • She needs to talk to her professor, does she?

Conclusion

To briefly recap, an interrogative sentence is simply a question. There are many different ways to ask questions in English, and though not all questions require traditional interrogative parts of speech (pronouns and adverbs), they are still interrogative sentences. Now that you know what the term means, you can start expanding your English skills by forming different kinds of interrogative sentences in your own speech and writing!

If you’d like to hear native English speakers using interrogative sentences and other types of sentence structures in English, be sure to subscribe to the Magoosh Youtube channel today!

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer and former English teacher. He enjoys traveling the world, watching movies, and caring for his three toy poodles.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *