Language is the most effective tool in communication. When we communicate with each other, we use many types of sentences such as affirmative, negative, exclamative sentences. Among of them, interrogative sentences are used the highest frequency. In communication as well as in thinking, questions made are to find out information which people do not know or understand. Because of those, people have to ask questions. However, listening , receiving and making questions are very difficult for language learners. Especially, in translation and interpretation questions from alanguage into another language, it is not an easy job. The reasons for the obstacles above are that beside the questions used to ask for information, there are other questions used to ask for other purposes such as greeting, invitation, feeling expression, or suggestion. Hence, we must base on contexts and speakers` purposes in order to translate correctly. The investigation done with a purpose is to help language learners know how to make and translate interrogative sentences.
There are 4 types of interrogative sentences:
Yes- No Interrogatives
1. Yes/No Interrogatives
Y-N questions are a type of questions which will be answered by “yes or no”, and there are two types of Y-N questions: positive and negative.
Functions of Y-N questions:
Y-N questions are used to ask for information. Asking for information is a basic function of any questions and with this kind of question, askers are looking forward to being provided enough information they need. For instance, a man asks a woman “ Are you from England?” and the man expects the woman to answer “yes” or “ no” because he wants to know where exactly the woman are from. In Vietnamese, we have the same. Instead of inverting model verbs, to be, or borrowed verbs at the beginning of a sentence, we use “ có...không, phải không, ạ, ừ, nhé, nhỉ, nha…”.
Does he work in that factory?
Anh ta làm trong công ty đó phải không?
Will you come?
Bạn sẽ đến chứ?
In English, when we change a positive sentence into an interrogative sentence, we have to pay attention to its tense. However, in Vietnamese, we needn`t do that because in Vietnamese, there are no tenses like in English. Sometimes, to emphasize an action which happened in the past, we use some words such as “ đã, đã từng”. For instance
Did he live in London?
Anh ta đã sống ở London phải không?
Below is a table containing Y-N questions in tenses.
Interrogative elements and forms
Present simple tense
Am/ is / are + S +…?
Do/ does + S + bare-inf. ?
Are you ok?
Does he love you?
Present continuous tense
Am/ is/ are + S + V-ing?
Are they watching TV?
Present perfect tense
Have/ has + S + V3/ V-ed?
Have you finished?
Present perfect continuous tense
Have/ has + S + been + V3/ Ved?
Has he been slept for 12 hours?
Was/ were + S …?
Did + S + bare-inf ?
Was he there?
Did you come there?
Was/ were + S + Ving?
Were they doing when I came?
Had + S + V3/ Ved ?
Had he left when I came?
Past perfect continuous
Had + S + been + V3/ Ved?
Had he been waited for 3 hours?
Will/ shall + S + bare-inf.?
Will you come there tomorrow?
Will/ shall + S + be + V-ing?
Will you be learning at 8 o`clock tomorrow?
Will/ shall + S + have + V3/ Ved?
Wil he have finished that report by tomorrow?
Can/ could/ may/ might/ must/ should + S + bare-inf.?
Could you come here on time?
Y-N questions function as an invitation. To Vietnamese culture, when we want to invite someone, we avoid speaking directly, so using Y-N questions are considered impolite. Nevertheless, to English culture, it is ok. Example
Would you like something to eat, Father?
Trình cha, cha có muốn ăn qua loa chút gì không ạ?
Would you like something to drink, Peter?
Uống chút gì Peter nhé?
Y-N Interrogatives function as suggestion, or asking for help? In our life, asking for help often occurs. In this case, we can use Y-N questions to express the action. In English, this action is a question, but when we translate it into Vietnamse, it is a positive sentence.
Will you tell her how sorry I am?
Xin cô vui lòng nói lại rằng tôi rất lấy làm buồn.
Could you show me the way to the nearest post office?
Làm ơn chỉ giùm tôi đường tới bưu điện gần đây nhất ạ.
Y-N interrogatives function as an offer for help. Some people often think that offer for help is easy to express, but in fact it is not because if they do not know how to exploit words effectively, they may cause misunderstanding or even hurt someone`s feelings. Therefore, in order to make people are received helps feel comfortable and pleased to receive the helps, we use Y-N interrogatives. Below are some examples with Vietnamse equivalent meanings so that we can distinguish the differences between English and Vietnamse Y-N questions functioning as an offer for help.
Shall I run fetch him?
Có cần tôi kêu ảnh lại không?
Can I close the door for you?
Bạn có muốn mình đóng cửa giùm bạn không?
Y – N interrogatives function as permission. Sometimes in some situations, we cannot make a decision by ourselves and we have to ask for permission. In order to do that, we use Y-N interrogatives.
Can I have wine with the meal?
Tôi có được uống rượu trong bữa ăn không?
Can I park here?
Tôi có thể đậu xe ở đây được không?
From the examples above, when asking for permission, in English we use Y-N interrogatives with some model verbs such as “will, can, could”, but in Vietnamse, we ues words such as “có thể…..được không”.
Y-N interrogatives function as an expression of surprise. When we want to show our surprise to something, besides using positive sentences, we use Y-N interrogatives. In Vietnamese, to express this function, we use some words such as “sao, à, ư, vậy ư, vậy à…”. Below are some examples.
Do you really think that is true?
Ông nghĩ vậy thật sao?
Don`t you know anything, Meg?
Em không biết tí gì ư Meg?
Y-N interrogatives function as an expression of anger. When we feel bothered, uncomfortable or angry about something, we can use Y-N interrogatives to express our feelings. In Vietnamse, we often use “hả, hử, chăng, có phải…không, phải không” to show this feeling. Examples
Have you lost your mind, honey?
Cháu điên rồi hả?
Do you mean to call me a coward?
Có phải ông bảo tôi hèn nhát?
Y-N interrogatives function as an attention. In daily life, there are many things which we are worried about such as health, job…One of ways expressing emotion is using Y-N interrogatives. In Vietnamse, we use “chứ, không, sao, à, ư, chứ, nhỉ…”
Are all the folks at Tara well?
Mọi người ở Tara vẫn khỏe mạnh chứ?
Are you ok?
Bạn ổn chứ?
Y-N interrogatives function as a worry of the speaker. Sometimes we may encounter some situations which make us hesitate and we do not know whether it is true or false. Below are some English and Vietnamese examples.
Do you think it would be any good to try and see her tomorrow?
Theo cô tôi có nên tìm gặp nàng vào ngày mai không?
Y-N interrogatives function as an affirmation of information. To indicate some information which we are not sure, we can use this question. Often when using this question, askers expect listeners to answer “yes”.
Did you shoot it Francis?
Chính anh bắn nó phải không Francis?
Y - N interrogatives function as an exclamation. When we have some strong emotion, or impression about a person or thing, we can use Y-N interrogatives to express our emotion. In Vietnamse, we express this emotion by using some words such as “quá, biết mấy, biết bao, bao nhiêu, chừng nào, nhường nào…”. It is not a question in Vietnamese. Therefore, we end a sentence with an exclamation mark. Below are some examples.
Weren`t you wonderful to come here?
Em đến đây thật tuyệt vời quá!
2. Wh- interrogatives.
We use question words to ask certain types of questions (question word questions). We often refer to them as WH- words because they include the letters WH. Wh- Questions allow a speaker to find out more information about topics. Below is the table on which has some question words, their functions and examples.
Asking information about something
What is your name?
Asking for repetition or confirmation
What? I didn`t hear anything
Asking for reasons
What did you do it for?
Asking for time
When will you come?
Asking for place or position
Where do you live?
Asking for choice
Which one do you like?
Asking for people( subject)
who opened the door?
Asking for people( object)
Whom did you see?
Asking about ownership
Whose is this book?
Asking for reasons
Why didn`t you come?
Making a suggestion
Why don`t we swim?
Asking about manner
How did you come there?
Asking about condition or quality
How was your exam?
Asking for distance
How far is it?
Asking about length
How long is this river?
Asking for age
How old is he?
Asking about extent or degree
Asking for reasons
How come I can`t see her?
Asking about quatity (countable)
How many students are there in this class?
Asking about quatity ( uncountable nouns)
How much sugar do you need?
In English, we have many question words such as “ what, when, where, how, what…for, how much, how many, how old, how long, why, which….”, and in Vietnamese, we have the equivalent words such as “gì, khi nào, ở đâu, như thế nào, để làm gì, bao nhiêu ( to this word, there are no countable or uncountable nouns, so we do not have to distinguish which nouns are countable or uncountable), bao nhiêu tuổi, bao xa, tại sao, cái nào…). However, in English, when we want to make Wh- questions, we just use question words, but in Vietnamse, besides words listed above, sometimes we need some extra words such as “thế, thế kia, vây…”. Below is some examples.
What did he buy?
Anh ta mua cái gì thế?
How did Mary come here?
Làm thế nào mà Mary đến được đây vậy?
When will the meeting begin?
Khi nào thì cuộc họp bắt đầu vậy?
The "grammar" used with wh- questions depends on whether the topic being asked about is the "subject" or "predicate" of a sentence. For the subject pattern, simply replace the person or thing being asked about with the appropriate wh-word. For instance
Someone has my baseball
Who has my baseball?
Something is bothering you.
What is bothering you?
For the predicate pattern, wh-question information depends on whether there is an auxiliary verb in the original sentence. Auxiliary or borrowed verbs are verbs that precede main verbs. To make a question using the predicate pattern, first form a yes or no question by inverting the subject and auxiliary verb. Then, add the appropriate wh-word to the beginning of the sentence.
I will leave tomorrow.
? will you leave?
When will you leave?
He is doing homework.
? is he doing?
What is he doing?
They used to live in London.
? did they use to live?
Where did they use to live?
If there is no auxiliary and there is “be”, invert the subject and verb, then add an appropriate wh- word to the beginning of the sentence. Below are some examples.
He is a doctor.
? is he?
Who is he?
The meeting is going to be held tomorrow.
? is the meeting going to be held?
When is the meeting going to be held?
If there are no auxiliary and verbs are not “be”, add “do, does, or did” to the beginning of the sentence. Then add the appropriate wh- question word, but pay attention to the tense and plural or single nouns. “Do” is used with present simple tense and plural nouns. “Does” is used with present simple tense and single or uncountable nouns. “Did” is used with simple past. Below are some examples.
I want a banana.
? do you want?
What do you want?
She usually visits Dalat.
? does she usually visit?
Where do she usually visit?
He went to Dalat?
? did he go?
Where did he go?
Differently, in Vietnamese, when making questions, we just need question words and we do not have to know which verbs are “to be”, which verbs are original verbs and which tenses the sentences belong to, so we needn`t care much like in English. Following examples will clarify this.
Where did he go yesterday?
Hôm qua anh ta đi đâu thế?
Where does he go?
Anh ta đi đâu thế?
Where did you go?
Bạn đã đi đâu thế?
3. Tag questions
A tag question is a short question added to the end of a positive or negative statement. Tag questions are used to verify or to check information that we are not sure it is true or false. Sometimes we just use them for effect when we are trying to be sarcastic, or to make a strong point. When we want to find out the agreement or affirmation of answers, we use tag questions. There are no kinds of sentences called tag questions in Vietnamese, but when we want to translate a tag question into Vietnamese, we replace “tag” parts by some words such as “ phai khong, dung khong…? Below are examples.
He is intelligent, isn`t he?
Anh ta thông minh đúng không?
You won`t come, will you?
Bạn sẽ không đến phải không?
If the tag is a real question, it has a rising intonation. For examples
The chairman is coming at 3.30, isn`t he?
If the tag is not a real question, it has a flat or falling intonation.
It is a nice day, isn`t it?
It is possible for a positive statement to be followed by a positive tag for even more effect ( sarcasm, anger, disbelief, shock, concern….)
Oh you will, will you?
You think you are funny, do you?
How are tag questions formed? Normally a positive statement is followed by a negative tag and a negative statement is followed by a positive tag. The statement and the tag are separated by a comma and the tense of the statement and the tag is the same. It means that if the verb of the statement is an auxiliary verb, the verb of the tag will match it. In Vietnamese, we do not have tag questions, but when we translate an English tag question into Vietnamese, we use some words such as “ phải không, đúng không”.
You can do it, can`t you?
Anh có thể làm việc đó chứ đúng không?
You can`t do it, can you?
Anh không the phải không?
You are Vietnamese, aren`t you?
Bạn là người Việt Nam đúng không?
You aren`t Vietnamese, are you?
Bạn không phải là người Việt hả?
4. Alternative questions
In English and Vienamese, we usually encounter Alternative question. Alternative question is a kind of question in which 2 or more possible answers are given for the listener to choose 1 of them. In English, the sign to identify Alternative question is “or”, and in English, it is “hay là, hoặc là”
You`ll read or I`ll read?
Mình đọc hay tôi đọc?
Do you like maths or English?
Bạn thích Toán hay là Anh?
Do you still remember or forget?
Em còn nhớ hay em đã quên?
Application in teaching Interrogative sentences
Because there is a gap of languages and cultures between English and Vietnamese, it seems hard for Vietnamese students in learning interrogative questions. In Vietnamese, there are no tenses, no inversion of special verbs, no kinds of tag question, so Vietnamese learners feel confused with interrogatives and usually make mistakes when they make English questions. Many students are influenced by their mother tongue and they often make questions by translating from their language into English. For examples: Quyển sách này của ai? Instead of saying “whose is this book?”, they say “ this book who?” or “ hôm qua anh đi đâu?”. Instead of saying “Where did you go yesterday?” they say “ yesterday you go where?”. Vietnamese learners usually use English grammar incorrectly. Therefore, as a to-be teacher, we must realize this weak point of students and show them the differences between English and Vietnamese grammar points. In our language, we do not have to pay attention to tenses, do not use borrowed verbs or invert special verbs when making questions. However, these are the most important things in making English questions. Learners have to use special verbs with appropriate tenses and invert special verbs in some necessary cases. I believe that after student have known the differences, they will reduce their mistakes in making questions.
What are you doingnow?
Anh đang làm gì vậy?
Will you come and see me tomorrow?
Anh sẽ đến thăm em vào ngày mai chứ?
In English speaking, there are some sentences used to ask questions but we do not have to use special verbs or inversion. However, speakers have to raise intonation at the end of the sentences in order for listeners to recognize that they are asked and need to give answers for the questions.
You bought this bike?
Bạn đã mua chiếc xe đạp này hả?
There are some English questions whose answers are different from our language. To a negative English question, differently from Vietnamese, people who are asked will answer the questions according to the fact they have, not according to the questions like Vietnamese.
Don`t you love me?
In Vietnamese, if the listener does not love the asker, she will answer “yes”. On the contrary, in English if the listener does not love the asker, she will say “no”, and if she loves the asker, she will say “ yes”. This is an interestingly different point in negative questions, so in teaching English, we, to- be teachers, should pay attention to this and explain to students so that they can master this point.
Besides, in A descriptive English grammar written by Ha Van Buu, he mentioned some special things in tag questions which learners usually make mistakes in making tag questions. Hence, we must include below points when teaching tag questions because they are so strange to our students because students rarely encounter the structures and they do not know how to translate them into Vietnamese. Below are some cases and examples.
You could have seen him, couldn`t you?
Cô có lẽ đã gặp cậu ta đúng không?
He should have told me, shouldn`t he?
Lẽ ra anh ta nên nói với tôi đúng không?
We had better study harder, hadn`t we?
Chúng ta nên học chăm chỉ hơn phải không?
You used to go there, usedn`t you?
Bạn đã từng ở đó phải không?
Or : You used to go there, didn`t you?
Eg: Let`s do it right now, shall we?
Chúng ta làm bây giờ được không?
Eg: Let me give you a hand, will you/ won`t you?
Để tôi giúp bạn một tay nhé?
Eg: Come and see me tomorrow, will you?
Hãy đến thăm em vào ngày mai nhé?
Negative words such as never, nothing, nowhere, seldom, hardly…
Eg: You have never seen her, have you?
Anh chưa bao giờ gặp cô ấy phải không?
You seldom see her, do you?
Little, a little, few, a few
Eg: he has little knowledge of that matter, has he?
Ông ta không có hiểu biết về vấn đề đó đúng không?
He has a little knowledge of that matter, hasn`t he?
Ông ta có kiến thức về vấn đề đó đúng không?
Eg: Everyone knew that, didn`t they/ didn`t he?
Mọi người đều biết phải không?
In teaching Wh- questions, we need to classify Wh-questions into many small cases so that students can master this kind of questions more clearly and easily. We can divide Wh-questions into 5 small kinds. In each part, we compare and contrast with Vietnamese kinds of questions in order to know which kinds are similar to Vietnamese and which kinds are not . This will help students not be influenced by their mother tongue and avoid mistakes.
Wh-question plays a roll as a subject. This kind is similar to Vietnamese. To make this kind of question, we follow the formular below.
Wh- word + V +……?
Who is your sister?
Ai là chị cậu thế?
Chuyện gì xảy ra vậy?
Wh- question plays a roll as a direct object. This kind is different because we have to invert special verbs when making this kind of question.
Direct object + Y-N question +…..?
Whom did you see?
Anh đã gặp ai vậy?
What are you doing?
Wh- question plays a roll as a compliment. This is also different from Vietnamese questions.
Wh- word + be + adj ?
What is this?
What is his name?
Wh- question plays a roll as an adverb of time, place, reason or manner.
Why did she leave me without a word?
Where did you live when you were 5 years old?
Interrogative word + ever
Interrogatives can combine with “ever” such as “however, wherever, whenever, whatever, whoever…” to express strong emotion such as surprise, anger, or fear.
Why ever did you do that? ( anger)
Tại sao mày lại làm thế?
However did you get in? ( surprise)
Làm thế nào mà anh vào được vậy?
Whoever is that waving to you? ( anger- jelousy of a husband)
Ai vẫy tay chào em vậy?
Whatever is that noise? ( fear)
Tiếng gì vậy?
This is one point to keep in mind with a negative question with “why”. “ Why don`t you go out with me ? and “ Why does`t she close the door?”. The 2 examples are the same in grammar. However, the first example is just like an invitation and an English will respond that “ Let` go” or “ I`m sorry, I have something to do”. The second one is basically a question asking a reason and it needs an answer. That structure is also used in Vietnamese but it is rare, so teacher should present them to the students.
When we teach English, besides using English we need exploit the native language of students by comparing and contrasting 2 language: mother tongue and foreign language so that students can distinguish the differences and reduce mistakes in learning. This contrast about interrogative sentences in English and Vietnamese is to carry out this purpose.
Quang Thiem, Le ( 2004). Ngon ngu hoc doi chieu. Ha Noi national university Publisher
Van Buu, Ha. A Descriptive English Grammar. The youth Publisher
A, Le, Phan Phung Dung, Vu Thi Kim Hoa. Tieng Viet. Education Publisher and Educational University publisher
Y-N questions from http://www.kh-sdh.udn.vn/zipfiles/sv2008-tb21/2R.HO%20THI%20THANH%20HA.pdf
Wh- questions from http://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/wh-question-words.htm