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The Grammar of Questions
August 16, 2016

August 16, 2016


I hope you're having a good August! We've been spending a lot of time outside soaking in all of the sun that we can before the summer ends. English Grammar Revolution

In this newsletter, I'm answering an email from a reader named Robin. Robin asks a great question about interrogative sentences. Read her email and my answer in the Grammar Time section.

Happy Learning,

Elizabeth O'Brien

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Interrogative Sentences:

Learn the Grammar of Questions


I was confused by the sentence diagram for the sentence, "Will my mother sing?"

It was diagrammed with "will sing" together as the verb. It looks like it reads as, "My mother will sing." How can we show in the sentence diagram that this is a question and that "will" and "sing" are actually far apart?

- Robin 

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Thanks for that great question, Robin. We need to review some background information about subjects, verbs, and sentences before I can answer it. Here we go!

Subjects and Verbs

All sentences contain a subject and a verb.

Cats meow.

Subjects (cats) tell us whom or what a sentence is about, and verbs (meow) tell us what the subject is being or doing.

Many of our sentences begin with the subject and are followed by the verb.

Verbs can be single words or groups of words. When a group of words is acting as the verb, it's called a verb phrase.

Cats will meow.

Verb phrases consist of one or more helping verb (will) and one main verb (meow).

Diagramming Subjects and Verbs

Sentence diagrams separate the subject from the verb. The subject goes on the left side of the diagram, and the verb goes on the right side.

The helping verb(s) and the main verb come together to do the job of a single verb, so we diagram the whole verb phrase in the verb space of the sentence diagram.


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Interrogative Sentences (Questions)

Interrogative sentences often contain verb phrases, and the helping verb(s) and the main verb are usually split up. Many times, the helping verb begins the sentence!

Have you been cooking?

You is the subject. Have been cooking is a verb phrase. Have and been are helping verbs and cooking is the main verb.

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Even if a sentence begins with a helping verb, we always diagram the subject on the left side and the verb on the right side.

Answering Robin's Question

How can we show in a sentence diagram that the diagrammed sentence is a question? 

Have you figured out the answer by looking at the sentence diagram above? 

We show this by maintaining the capitalization of the original sentence! Notice that Have in the sentence diagram above begins with a capital letter - just as it does when we write it out as a question.

We all know that sentences need to begin with capital letters. By maintaining the original capitalization of the sentence, we know which word starts the sentence and we can figure out whether or not the sentence is a question.

Will my mother sing?

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We know that the sentence in this diagram is a question because the word Will begins with a capital letter. 

My mother will sing.

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We know that the sentence in this diagram is not a question because the word will begins with a lowercase letter. Since My has a capital M, we know that it begins the sentence.

There you have it. Now you know about the grammar of questions!

Would you like to learn more,? You'll find these pages helpful.

Are you an educator? Feel free to use this information with your students.

About Elizabeth

English Grammar Revolution

Elizabeth O'Brien is founder of, a company devoted to helping people learn and love grammar.

Through her website, books, and programs, Elizabeth shows people how to teach and learn grammar the easy way. She's on a mission to inspire and motivate people by making grammar fun and friendly.

If you liked today's issue, you'll love Elizabeth's grammar and sentence diagramming programs, which will help you learn or teach grammar through simple, step-by-step instructions and sentence diagrams.

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