Saturday, May 16

Lesson 11: The Big Switch (How to Make Questions in English)

Now that you know the Subject and the Verb are the center of the English Solar System, get ready because you’re going to see the whole system turn around. You might feel a little dizzy. 
copyright Free Images

But don't worry. Everything is going to be Ok if you remember that in English, a sentence is:

Sentence = S (Subject) + V (Verb)
while a question is:  

Question = V (Verb) + S (Subject)

This is the Big Switch. This means that what you learned about the Subject and Verb of the sentence:

Just switch their positions and... bingo! You have the formula of questions in English:

Figure 10: The Switch

It might be hard to believe but it’s true. Many of the questions you’re going to make and hear in English will follow the table above. So our table is very simple yet also complete and useful. 

We just need to add a few things: the 3 Guest Verbs. 

I'm teaching you the Guest Verbs late because, in fact, they’re not used in sentences, only in questions and negatives (you can review this in Lesson 8). So, if you think it’s OK to say:

I do go to the mall every weekend.     – or -
She did buy a new bag.

I’m sorry to say that you’re wrong. The sentences above are possible only in one special case (as a form of emphasis). This means that every time you make a positive sentence in English, don't use “do,” “does” and “did.” Just say:

I go to the mall every weekend. = Ok

She bought a new bag. = Ok

We need to learn the Guest Verbs again because, if you take another look at our table, you will notice that:

When we switch the Subject and the Verb, when we make questions instead of sentences, all Verbs stay exactly the same except the Action Verbs. The Action Verbs change to “Do,” “Does,” and “Did.” Just remember this one difference and you don’t need to worry about anything else.

How to Make Wh Questions

There are 2 kinds of questions in English: 

(1) Yes or No Questions = questions that can be answered by either a Yes or a No

(2) Wh Questions = questions that start with “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” “Why,” and “How.”

Making Yes or No Questions is easy. Just follow the table above and you can make them. 

Wh Questions are also easy. Keep following the table exactly as it is, then just add a “Wh Question” Starter at the beginning. Like this:

Figure 11: How to Make Wh Questions

Easy as pie, right? Like I said, the English Solar System formulas are very important because you will be using them a lot. Whether you want to make a sentence or a question in English, just follow the patterns and you can do it.


Let me just give you a little warning about one special case. First, take a look at these 2 sentences: 

                                          Herbert calls somebody . 

                                          Somebody calls Herbert.

Now let's try to make questions out of the 2 sentences:

Herbert calls somebody.               ==>                Who does Herbert call?
Somebody calls Herbert.          ==>                   Who calls Herbert?

See the difference? The sentences talk about 2 different situations so we also have 2 different kinds of question. The first question follows the basic Question Pattern in English (Q = V + S ):

                                        Who does   Herbert call?
                                                   V        S 

This is a normal question in English and about 95% of all questions are like this. On the other hand, the 2nd question is a little special:

                                       Who   calls Herbert?
                                           S      V

This question is special because it doesn’t follow the Question Pattern. In fact, it follows the Sentence Pattern ( S = S + V )!

Let’s have more examples: 

                             They’re talking to somebody. 

                              Somebody is talking to them.

Again, if we make questions, we should say:

They’re talking to somebody.       ==>                Who are   they talking to?
                                                                                    V      S

Somebody is talking to them.     ==>             Who   is talking to them?
                                                                          S     V

The 2nd pattern – “Who calls Herbert?” and “Who is talking to them?” -  is less common than the first one. In fact, the 2nd pattern is used only with “Who” and “What” Questions. That's why you hear examples like these:

                                        Who   ate the cake?  
                                           S      V
                                        What   happened?
                                           S       V
                                        Who    will join us?
                                           S        V
                                        What   made him angry?
                                           S       V

Only questions starting with “Who” and “What,” not “When,” “Where,” “Why,” and “How.” This is why I said 95% of all questions in English will still follow the Question Pattern (V + S), not the Sentence Pattern. 

Like I said, the whole solar system of English, whether a sentence or a question, will move around the Center. 

copyright Free Images / Calvatina 

As a matter of fact. there aren't any surprising, unexpected patterns or styles except the Great Center. So don't be afraid of monsters jumping out of a dark corner in English. Learners are often afraid of what they don’t know and they always imagine the worst situation. Then they become frozen and can't speak anything or make good decisions in sentence-making. They imagine a terrible monster but, in fact, there's nothing.

courtesy of Free Images


Right now, the question burning inside your head is: How can I know which Verb to use to start my question?

The answer is still in the Solar System formulas. Remember what I taught you about the “Be” Verb, the Adjective, the V+ing, the Modal Verbs and the 3 Guest Verbs? When you're making a question in English, a similar situation happens inside your mind. It's exactly the same when you're making a sentence, just reversed:     

Just match the Verbs with the corresponding words as quickly as you can. Like this:


do, does, & did_

Main Street
They etc.

base verb

is, are, was, & were 

has, have, & had    


will, would, can, could, might, may,  must, have to, & should    

base verb
Figure 12: The Big Switch Extended

In short, if you have a base verb, you can use either a Guest Verb or a Modal at the beginning of your question. If you want to have a P.P., then use a Have Verb. And if you have a Ving Verb, a Noun, or an Adjective, use a Be Verb

Take a look at these good examples:

Do you like sports?                       Are the books expensive?
Have you eaten?                           Is that man a singer?
I sthe baby sleeping?                    Can the repairperson come?
Will she join?                                Did she forget her umbrella?

Of course you need practice to be good at it. And if you think it’s quite difficult for you, remember that you're now making questions, which means that the whole system of English is reversed. It’s easier to make sentences because that’s where you started.

If you want, you can make a sentence inside your head first, then switch the Subject and Verb while keeping everything else the same – and you can make an instant question. This always works except with the Action Verbs because, as you know, they must change into the Guest Verbs, Do, Does and Did:                 

This way is a little indirect. It's better if you can make questions instantly without making sentences first. 

I expect you will have some problems trying to do the Switch. If the Solar System formulas haven’t become automatic or natural for you yet, like a habit, then you’ll keep going back to them and you can't make either sentences or questions smoothly. However, if the formulas become a fixed part of you, you’ll be able to make both sentences and questions easily.

Don't hesitate to go back to the lessons we already discussed. Even though you already finished reading a lesson, that doesn't mean you already have the skill. The most important thing is if you can remember and apply what you learned in your life. If not, feel free to go back. There’s nothing wrong with Review. In fact, Review is a big part of learning a foreign language. It is where the real learning happens, not always during the class or lesson. 

It’s because of our misunderstanding of learning - our focus on quantity and speed rather than quality and long-term results - that learners have a negative opinion of Review. They prefer to cover new topics and skills than go back to the basics. 

In summary, practice the Subject and Verb, the Center of the English Solar System, switch them forward and backward, backward and forward, until you can use them automatically with few mistakes. Soon, you will completely master both sentence and question-making.       

Keep on learning !

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