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INTERROGATIVE SENTENCES

1. Types of interrogative sentences


The syntactic analysis of questions makes use of the partial similarity of questions
and declarative sentences. Two main types of questions are derived from declarative
sentences - yes or no questions and wh-questions:
John will tell the truth.
a. Will John tell the truth ?
b. What will John tell ?

yes-no question
wh-question(or constituent question)

Other types of yes-no questions and wh-questions can be formed from the same basic
sentence. Since these are less frequent, they are also called minor types of questions:
c.
d.
e.
f.
g.

John will tell the truth?


Wont John tell the truth?
John will tell the truth, wont he?
John will tell what ?
Who will tell what?

declarative question
negative question
tag question
echo-question
multiple wh-question

Questions can also appear in coordination or in subordination:


h. [Will he talk to me] or [will his dad tell the truth]? alternative yes-or no questions
g. [Who will he talk to] or [what will his dad do]? alternative wh-question
i.
j.

I wonder [whether John will tell the truth].


I wonder [what John will tell].

indirect yes-no question


indirect wh-question question

2. Yes of no questions
Typical yes or no questions are derived from declarative clauses by moving one
constituent, the auxiliary (or the modal). In traditional grammar this is called inversion of the
auxiliary with the subject:
She has written an essay.
She can speak Japanese.

Has she written an essay?


Can she speak Japanese?

When the lexical verb is in the present simple or past simple, do-support (or do insertion) is
used.
He plays the violin.
He told the truth.

Does he play the violin?


Did he tell the truth?

2.1. Declarative questions


In declarative questions there is no inversion of the auxiliary with the subject or do-support
(when the lexical verb is in the present simple or past simple):
Youre working late tonight?
She came home late?

-inversion
-do insertion

The only marker of interrogation is the rising intonation attached to the declarative sentence.
Declarative questions are typical of spoken language and be used when the speaker thinks
he/she knows or has understood something, but wants to make sure or express surprise:
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This is your car? (= I suppose this is your car, isnt it?)


Thats the boss? I thought he was the cleaner.
Were going to Hull for our holidays. Youre going to Hull?
2.2. Negative questions
A negative clause has not or nt after the tense or modal. If the contracted form nt is
employed, it is always attached to the end of the auxiliary. That means the contracted form
becomes part of the operator and is fronted with it if the clause is a negative question:
Hasnt Joe attended the course?

+inversion
+ negative contraction

If it is not contracted, the operator moves without it, the result being an extremely rare kind of
question, dubious for most speakers:
*Has Joe not attended the course?

+inversion
-negative contraction

In very formal British English, some speakers allow the uncontracted not to get attached to
the operator constituent:
Has not the Prime Minister attended the press conference?
Such a question is more likely to be rhetorical rather than information seeking. In general the
contraction is used instead of not in negative questions. See Baker p 391
2.3. Tag questions
Tag questions consist of a declarative clause followed by a tagged-on yes-no question. The tag
has a repetition of the auxiliary (or modal) in the declarative clause and a pronoun
referring to the subject:
He will find a well-paid job, wont he?
If the declarative clause has no available auxiliary or modal, the emergency operator do is
introduced:
Mary bakes the apple pie, doesnt she?
Mary baked the apple pie, didnt she?
If the declarative clause is affirmative, then the tag is normally negative. If the declarative
clause is negative, then the tag question is affirmative. The negative in the tag is always the
contracted form nt:
Harry gave you a cheque, didnt he?
Harry didnt give you a cheque, did he?
Following the analogy of positive and negative poles in electricity, the clauses and tags are
sometimes said to have affirmative or negative polarity. If the declarative clause has
negative polarity, then the tag must have affirmative polarity, and vice versa. If this restriction
is not observed, the sentence is likely to be interpreted not as a question but as a reflective
statement to oneself, or perhaps a sarcastic or threatening remark.
She has told a lie, has she?
They are rarely used in British English because they are felt to be aggressive:

I see. You dont like my cooking, dont you?


Learners often improve English by using a simpler tag, for example:
You like foreign movies, yes?
In fact, native speakers often use simpler tags like: is that right? or just right?:
Torik wont leave the palace, right?
2.4. Alternative questions
Alternative questions also known as either-or questions have either the structure of a general
question or of a wh-question. Alternative questions present options to choose from:
Will she talk to me or will her father go to the police department?
How did you get there by bus or by tram?
They are clauses conjoined with or which can undergo conjunction reduction, which omits all
but the contrasting information from the second part:
Are you leaving today or tomorrow?
Are you going to tell me the truth or not?
2.5. Indirect questions
Indirect yes-no questions depend on a main clause. They are typically introduced by the
conjunction whether and they are characterized by the absence of inversion. They are usually
employed in reported speech:
They wondered whether they would get there in time.
3. WH-questions
A wh-question is also known as a constituent question because the wh-element questions one
constituent. Wh-questions are used freely when a speaker needs some information. Whquestions are defined as constructions involving movement of the wh-element and of the
auxiliary. Movement of question words is referred to as wh-movement.
Typical wh-questions as in (f) are also derived from declarative clauses by moving
two constituents: the auxiliary and the wh-word.
a. inversion of the auxiliary with the subject or do-support (when the lexical verb is in
the present simple or past simple)
b. movement of the wh-word replacing the questioned constituent to front position in
the questions.
The wh-phrase
Question words fall into several categories:
a. Interrogative pronouns: what, which, who
[NP What] will he disclose ?
b. Interrogative adverbs: where, when, why, how
[AdvP How] does she sing?
c. Determiner: how in QPs (how much, how many), in AP or AdvP:
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[QP How much] did it cost ?


[QP How many students] attended the lecture?
[AP How clever] is he?
[AdvP How quickly] did you read it?
Determiners: what, which, whose in NPs:
[NP Which story] did you like?
[NP What book] did you read?
[NP Whose pen] is this?
d. The WH-phrase may also start out as a PP in the declarative sentence:
He wrote the letter [PP to Mary].
He wrote the letter [PP to whom].
I can rely [pp on my friend].
I can rely [pp on whom].
The presence of the wh-phrase as the complement of the preposition allows the PP to undergo
wh-movement resulting in two types of constructions:
Who did he write the letter to?
Who can I rely on?
To whom did he write the letter?
On whom can I rely?
In (a) the wh-phrase is moved out of the PP; the head of the PP is left behind. The
phenomenon in which a preposition is left behind, orphaned or abandoned after its
complement has been moved out is called preposition stranding.
In (b) the preposition is moved along with the complement NP to the front position of
the question. This phenomenon is referred to as pied-piping: the preposition is pied-piped
with the NP. The general idea behind this metaphor being that prepositions can follow their
wh-NP Objects to the front of the clauses in much the same way that the rats followed the
Pied Piper out of Hamlin in a medieval German legend.

Questioning of the constituents of a simple sentence


The questioned constituent may be an argument of the verb (i.e. an obligatory constituent of
the sentence: Subjects, Objects, Predicatives. The place from where the wh-constituent has
been moved is marked by a dash:
a. He will disclose the secret.
b. He sent the postcard to his friend.
c. John will see her to the station.

[NP What] will he disclose __?


[PP To whom] did he send the postcard __?
[NP Who] will see her to the station?

or an adjunct in the structure of the sentences (i.e. an optional constituent such as Adverbial
Modifiers, Attributes):
d. She will live in London.
[PP Where] will she live __?
e. The train arrives in time/ early.
[PP/AdvPWhen] does the train arrive __?
f. He has gone bankrupt because he couldnt pay his debts.
[CP Why] has he gone bankrupt __?
1. Questioning the Direct Object
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NPs functioning as Direct Objects appear after transitive verbs: simple or complex.
Jane will meet [NP her aunt].
Astronauts burn up [NP a lot of calories].
They accused John of theft.

simple transitive verb


phrasal transitive verb
prepositional transitive verb

In order to derive questions out of these declarative clauses, the targeted constituent, the
Object NP, will be replaced by a corresponding wh-phrase which will be moved to front
position after inversion takes place:
Jane will meet whom?
Astronauts burn up what?
Whom will Jane meet?
What will astronauts burn up?

+inversion
+wh-movement

Do-insertion appears if the lexical verb is in the present or past tense:


What do you prefer?
2. Questioning the Prepositional Object
It is well-known that Prepositional Objects occur in the frame of: transitives ( accuse sb. of,
blame sb. for, etc); intransitives (apply for, insist on, etc.); adjectives (afraid of, ashamed of,
etc.); idiomatic constructions (get to the bottom of, take advantage of, etc.):
They blame him for his failure.
I can depend on my friends in this matter.
Governments are afraid of strikes.
They got to the bottom of the whole story.
As far as the movement of the Prepositional Object is concerned, English provides a choice
between two constructions, one more formal, the other more colloquial. In more formal style,
the preposition moves with the interrogative pronoun, i.e. wh-movement moves a PP not an
NP in the so-called pied-piping construction:
For what do you blame him [PP __ ]?
On whom can I depend in this matter [PP __ ]?
In colloquial style, only the wh-constituent moves, leaving the preposition behind, hence the
label of this pehnomenon preposition stranding:
What do you blame him [PP for [NP __ ]?
Whom can I depend [PP on [NP __ ] in this matter ?
The type of structure in which the preposition is left behind, stranded, is vary rare. Most
languages do not allow movement of the NP out of the context of PP:
Rom.

De cine depinzi in aceasta chestiune?


* Cine depinzi in aceasta chestiune de?

It is well-accepted that Preposition Stranding is characteristic of English, being a marked


structure.
Stranding is possible only with PPs that function as PO, but it is not possible when
the preposition is part of a PP functioning as an adverbial modifier:

They talked during the conference.


Adv. Mod of manner

* What did they talk during?


* During what did they talk?
When did they talk?

In such cases the questioned constituent is replaced by an interrogative adverb (when,


where, etc.)
The preposition cannot be left behind when the noun has an adverbial meaning of
place, time, way, manner, reason, fashion, interval, aspect, respect, extent:
To what extent are diseases linked to genes?
In what sense do you mean a crisis ?
In what manner will you answer her request ?
In what respect is he different from the people around?
By what means did he get his fortune ?
b. The stranding of the preposition is obligatory when the preposition is part of an idiom
having the structure: do away with, put up with, make sure of, let go of, get hold of, get free
to, make use of, take charge of, get the drop on, etc.:
I am trying to get hold of that man.
Who are you trying to get hold of?
*Of who are you trying to get hold?

preposition stranding
pied-piping

I am trying to get advantage of my neighbour.


Who are you trying to get advantage of?
*Of who are you trying to get advantage ?

preposition stranding
pied-piping

With idiomatic constructions pied-piping leads to ungrammatical questions.


3. Questioning the Indirect Object
Ditransitive verbs (give, offer, send, promise) are followed by a DO and an IO in oblique
(prepositional) object constructions or by an IO and a DO in the so called double object
constructions:
He gave Mary a book.
IO
DO
He gave a book to Mary.
DO
IO

(double object construction (DOC))


(oblique object constructions (OOC))

If the Indirect Object NP is replaced by a wh-phrase, then we notice that wh-movement is


possible with prepositional IO but is rather restricted with prepositionless IO:
He gave a book to whom.

[NP Who] did he give a book to _?


[PP To whom] did he give a book _?

He gave whom a book.

*Who did he give a book?

To put it differently, the IO can be questioned only in the Oblique Object Construction.
The oblique object - double object alternation is not fully productive, i.e. not all ditransitive
verbs can appear in both constructions. There are ditransitive verbs that allow only one of the
two constructions.
a. Verbs like donate and distribute appear only in the oblique dative constructions with no
have no double object counterpart:

John donated the money to charity.


* John donated charity the money.
The postman delivered the parcel to Sam.
*The postman delivered Sam the parcel.
Wh-movement applies freely to verbs that appear only in oblique object constructions:
He donated the money to whom.

Who did he donate the money to __?


* To whom did he donate the money __?
The postman delivered the parcel to whom. Whom did the postman deliver the parcel to?
*To whom did the postman deliver the parcel?
b. On the other hand there are verbs like envy, cost, spare, forgive that occur in double object
constructions with no well-formed oblique (or prepositional) structure:
The judge spared John the ordeal.
*The judge spared the ordeal to John.
I envy him his good fortune.
*I envy his good fortune to him.
With such verbs, questioning the IO is not possible:
I envy who his good fortune.
*Who do you envy __ his good fortune?
That mistake cost who her job. *Who did that mistake cost __ her job?
On the other hand there are ditransitive verbs like bid (farewell), strike (a blow), wish
(success), deal (a blow), teach, tell that evince a higher accessibility to wh-questions
addressed to the IO, possibly on account of their idiomatic structure :
I taught the students French.
He dealt John a heavy blow.

Whom did you teach __ French?


Whom did he deal __ a heavy blow?

Minor types of wh-questions


1. Multiple questions
Mutiple questions have been defined as wh-questions containing more than one questioned
element (phrase), which do not result from coordination. The wh-elements may remain in
situ:
Who gave what to whom ?
Who left before doing what?
Where did you buy what?
Who got his answer when?
What did you do where?
Who stole this candy bar from where?
If the multiple wh-question is a complex sentence, i.e.if there is a relationship of
subordination in the sentence, then only one of the wh-elements may move to presubject
position in the subordinate clause:
John remembers he bought bread at the bakers.
Who remembers where he bought what _?
Who remembers what he bought _ where ?

Only one of the wh-constituents moves into the Spec position of CP, the other(s) remain in
situ.
2.Echo questions
An echo question is used as a reaction to a declarative sentence by a speaker who wishes the
interlocutor to repeat part of the declarative sentence. Echo questions are formed by simply
substituting a question word for a constituent. The speaker may question a constituent (Su, O,
etc), a verb or a whole question:
This type of question refers back to all or part of the previous utterance (made by someone
else), which the hearer either does not understand or finds difficult to believe:
Ive bought an electric tooth-brush.
Did the Vice-Dean leave a message?

Youve bought what?


Did who leave a message?

To question one constituent, the whole sentence is repeated and the wh-element replacing the
questioned constituent is stressed:
Just take a look at that.

Take a look at what?

To question a verb, the auxiliary do is used to replace the verb:


She set fire to the garage.

She did what (to the garage)?

A speaker may question a question, by repeating it with a rising intonation:


What does he want?
What does he want? Money, as usual.
What did you say to him?
What did I say to him?
Have you finished with the hair-dryer? Have I finished with it?
3. Emphatic Questions
Questions may be made more emphatic if the question word is strengthened by the addition of
certain phrases. All interrogative words may be strengthened by adding ever spelt separately
or together with interrogative words (whoever, whatever, wherever called compound
interrogative pronouns and adverbs):
Whatever is the matter ?
Wherever have you been ?
Whoever could that be at this time of night ?
A question is often emotionally strengthened by a strongly stressed PP after the interrogative:
What [PP in Gods name] have you told him?