The Right Way to Ask Questions in English (Using Intonation)

May 15, 2019 | 3 comments

Did you know there’s a right way to ask questions in English? Yes, there’s definitely the right grammar and word order. But there’s also something that will help you ask questions in a clear, easy to understand way. 

Intonation.

Intonation is the natural rise and fall of our voice when we speak. Using it correctly to ask questions will help you sound natural to native speakers and communicate clearly.

That’s what I want to help you do.

We have 4 types of questions in English. Each one needs different intonation. 

In this lesson, you’ll learn and practice the right intonation to ask questions in English — so you can do it correctly, every time.

Bonus: At the end, I’m going to tell you one specific thing you should definitely NOT do with your intonation in English conversation.

Use the right intonation for questions — every time.

Lesson by Annemarie

The Right Way to Ask Questions in English Using Intonation

YES/NO QUESTIONS

The first type of questions are those that will get a yes or no answer. These generally start with: are, is, can, do, did, have, would, could, should. Have a listen to a yes/no question and see if you can hear what we need to do with our voice. 

Are you gonna be home tonight?

For yes/no questions we use a rising intonation. This tells the person we are talking to that we expect a yes or no answer. We need to ask these kinds of questions a lot. But remember, if you are trying to make good conversation, yes/no questions will only lead to short answers.

So only use this kind of question when you need short answers, and definitely use rising intonation at the end. Try repeating these examples of yes/no questions, making your voice go up at the end of the question:

  • Is your mom feeling better?
  • Can you make it to my birthday dinner?
  • Do you wanna see a movie tonight?
  • Did you have time to watch the final episode?
  • Have you had a haircut?
  • Would you be into hanging out on Friday?
  • Could you imagine if I lost my cell phone?
  • Should we ask her to join us?

QUESTION WORD QUESTIONS

The next type of question is those that get a longer answer than yes/no. These questions start with all the ‘w’ question words: Who, what, which, why, where, when, or with how.

Who’s coming to your birthday dinner? ⬊

We use a falling tone for these questions. This intonation tells our listener we are expecting a longer answer.

These questions are great for small talk and for trying to fire up a good conversation. Let’s try. Really focus on repeating after me and making your voice go down at the end of the question:

  • What did you think of the movie?
  • Which hair stylist did you see?
  • Why are you so busy lately?
  • Where should we go for dinner?
  • When are you gonna watch the final episode?
  • How come she didn’t want to join us?

CHOICE QUESTIONS

Life is full of choices these days: short black, cafe latte, macchiato or mocha, and that’s just our morning coffee! So, how do we use our voice to let someone know we are asking them to make a choice? 

Do you want pizza ⬈ or pasta ⬊?  

When we offer a choice we make it really clear by going up on the first and additional choice and on the last choice we make our voice go down.

Do you want pizza ⬈, pasta ⬈, or steak⬊? 

This clearly lets the listener hear that we are offering choices and tells them when the list of choices is done. Let’s try it, remember, up, up, up and finally down on the last choice, no matter how many choices there are:

  • Can you help me now or later?  
  • Is the best time to meet on Friday, Saturday or Sunday?
  • Would you like vanilla, caramel, strawberry or chocolate?

MAKING A STATEMENT INTO A QUESTION

The cool thing about intonation is that we can actually make anything into a question. You can take a statement and add rising intonation ⬈ and it automatically becomes a question.

You might do this if you are surprised, want to change up your grammar or want to check that you understand something. You will notice there are no question words and the grammar is not what we normally use for a question in the examples below. Our voice alone creates the question.

  • She’s gonna call you later today? ⬈
  • You cleaned the whole house? ⬈
  • This is the best movie of the year? ⬈

Now you have everything you need to know about using intonation to ask questions in English. So you are ready to go! Why don’t you jump right in and try our practice questions here.

  1. Give an example of a question you could ask your friend. What intonation would you use?
  2. Give an example of a question you could ask your boss. What intonation would you use?
  3. You are surprised at something your neighbor just told you. How do you make a question with no question words? Give an example and tell us what intonation you would use.

Share your answers below; we would love to hear from you!

~ Annemarie

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