The grammar of English questions is quite complicated. It’s difficult to remember which auxiliary verb you need – or then to get the right word order. This isn’t easy in situations when you have time to think – for example, when you’re writing. But when you’re speaking to someone, there’s even less time.
One solution is to copy native speakers and use simple questions (with simple grammar) in conversation. Here are four examples of how to do this.
Remove the auxiliary
When you’re in the middle of a conversation, it isn’t always easy to quickly remember the right auxiliary. Your brain starts thinking: “Do or Does?” “Have?” “Didn’t?”
One way to avoid this is to remove the auxiliary and subject completely. This is also known as “ellipsis” and it’s very common in spoken English. Here are three examples of “full” questions, followed by the simple version:
“Would you like a lift to the station?”
“Do you fancy going to the cinema?”
“Have you eaten here before?”
In all these questions, you can remove the auxiliary (“would”, “do” and “have”) and the subject (“you”). You’re then left with the reduced questions:
“Like a lift to the station?”
“Fancy going to the cinema?”
“Eaten here before?”
The intonation remains the same (rising then falling tone) but removing the first part helps you to speak more fluently and to reduce the risk of making a mistake with the word order or auxiliary.
It also helps you to focus on the essential meaning of the question. For example:
“Have you got a problem with that?” becomes “Got a problem with that?”
“Do you want this one or that one?” becomes “This one or that one?” (You could also have “Want this one or that one?”, but it’s even more direct to omit the “want” from the question.)
Use a two-word question
This is a very common question format when you use “any” or “more”.
Typical “Any” questions:
“Any good?” (“Was it any good?” – when a shop assistant asks you if you want to buy something)
“Any news?” (“Is there any news?”)
“Any luck?” (“Did you have any luck?” – when someone asked you if you were successful at something you wanted to do)
“Any messages?” (“Are there any messages for me?”)
“Any questions?” (“Do you have any questions for me?” – after you’ve taught or explained something)
Here are some examples with “more”:
“More potatoes?” (= “Would you like any more potatoes?”)
“More tea?” (= “Would you like another cup of tea?”)
“More?” (= “Do you really want more?!”)
How about / What about …?
These are very simple questions as you can use them as “blocks” of language:
“How about going to a restaurant tonight?”
“I’d like to try the new Chinese place. What about you?”
You can use them to make a suggestion or ask for an opinion. The only grammar you must remember is that you follow the phrase with either a noun or an “ing” form:
“What about the Double Diamond?” (noun)
“How about trying the Double Diamond?” (“ing” form)
Tell me about…
Instead of using a question form, say “tell me about” followed by the subject. This type of question is useful, because it’s open (you aren’t limiting the answer) and it’s grammatically simple. Here are some examples:
“Tell me about your first day at work” (rather than “Can you tell me about…”)
“Tell me about your country” (rather than “Can you describe your country to me?”
“Tell me about your family” (rather than “Can you talk to me about your family?”)
Spoken English has lots of examples of simplified grammar. When you know these, it’s easier to speak fluently, because you aren’t always thinking and translating. Join the English Fluency Club to discover more ways to speak English easily and naturally!
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