How can I recognise English interrogative sentences?

This is the third of five chapters about Sentence Functions. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Introduce the concept of interrogative sentences

– Provide academic examples of interrogative functions

– Discuss strategies for recognising interrogatives

Chapter 3

Another type of informative sentence like the declarative is the interrogative sentence function. Much like declaratives, interrogatives are fairly common sentences in general English although they are much less commonly used in academic writing and speech. The function of an interrogative is for the speaker (or writer) to question the listener (or reader) about something unknown, or to request more information or assistance from that person. Simply then, an interrogative is a call for knowledge, as is shown in the following examples.


Academic Examples

– How are these findings significant?

– In which year did Germany invade Poland? 

– What are the causes of the China-America trade war?

– Which variables were the most important in your study?

– What were the main motivations for European colonialism?


What can be seen from these examples is that interrogatives in academia may be used most commonly in essay questions, for the headings and subheadings of assignments, or for general comprehension and discussion questions. Where such interrogatives are hardly used in academic writing is when writing introductions, body sections and conclusions. This is because direct questions like interrogatives are considered too informal in an essay and are therefore seen as being unacademic.


Recognising Interrogatives

The easiest way to recognise a written interrogative is to look for the questions mark (?) placed at the end of that sentence, and in speech such sentences are often also marked with rising intonation. Additionally, interrogatives most often begin with either an auxiliary verb such as ‘do’ and ‘be’, or with an adverb such as ‘what’, ‘when’ or ‘why’, moving the subject out of its first position in the sentence. The change from a declarative to an interrogative structure can be seen below:

Sentence Functions 3.1 Declarative to Interrogative

Two final types of interrogative sentence that are worth mentioning are the rhetorical question and the question tag. Rhetorical questions look much like standard interrogatives, except these function more communicatively and less informatively in the sense that they do not require an answer from the listener or reader and are instead intended to simply encourage thought. Question tags, on the other hand, take a declarative sentence and turn its function into an interrogative by adding an interrogative fragment to the end of that declarative following the comma. This interrogative fragment is also provided in reverse polarity to its related declarative, in which case an affirmative declarative would possess a negative interrogative question tag such as ‘aren’t you?’, as is shown below.

Sentence Functions 3.2 Rhetorical Interrogative and Question Tag

We’ve now discussed both types of informative sentence function, leaving only the communicative exclamatory and imperative functions for chapters four and five.

3 of 5 Chapters Completed


Once you’ve completed all five chapters about sentence functions, you might also wish to download our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets to test your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

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Autumn 2022