a picture of a question mark

How does the interrogative mood in English language work?

Before we begin with the structure behind the interrogative mood it would be nice to know what a grammatical mood is. A grammatical mood is a set of grammatical structures we use to mark the purpose of a sentence. In a very general sense, we can use language to fulfill one of these proposes:

  • To give information to someone
  • To ask for information from someone
  • To give orders to someone (we can consider requests as polite orders)
  • To express our personal feelings

For our brain to understand the purpose of each sentence we mark it with different grammatical structures and we have grammatical names for each set of structures:

note: to make it simpler I considered conditional and subjunctive moods sub-types of the declarative mood.

The relationship between declarative and interrogative moods

There is a direct relationship between the above-mentioned moods. For every set of information that we offer in the declarative mood, there should be a way to ask a question, and it may come as a surprise to you that there is usually only a handful of marked information sets we use to transmit information. Here is an overview of the marked information sets we provide in the declarative mood. Take a look at the following table:

POS Function Type Purpose
Noun Subject person or thing doing the action
Object person or thing that the action is done to
Possessive noun person or thing that something belongs to
Verb Verb Phrase action or the state declared in the sentence
Adjective Attributive adjective Attributive of the noun
Adverb Time Time time in which the action happened
Duration duration of the action
Frequency frequency of action happening
Place Place place of that action
Movement direction to/from which the action happened
Distance distance from the place of action
Manner way the action happened
Degree degree of  an adjective or adverb
Determiner Quantity Countable number of things mentioned
Uncountable amount of things mentioned

This table shows the most important marked information we transmit in each sentence. There are more specific data sets that are not mentioned which are usually made from a combination of a preposition and a noun (acting as an adverb in the sentence) like “instrument of action” which is expressed by using “with” + “a noun” (with a hammer).

Now for each element, there is at least one way to ask for information. Sometimes it is done by using a single question word and sometimes it is done by using a compound question word or a special structure. Here is a table showing the way to ask for information about each element:

POS Function Type How to ask a question
Noun Subject What / Which / Who
Object What / Which / Who (whom)
Possessive noun Whose
Verb Verb Phrase What + do*
Adjective Attributive adjective what + attribution noun**
Adverb Time Time When / What time
Duration How long
Frequency How often
Place Place Where
Movement Where + preposition of movement
Distance How far
Manner How
Degree How + Adjective/adveb***
Determiner Quantity Countable How many
Uncountable How much

* To ask about the action that happened in a sentence we use the structure “what + do”. Here the verb do acts as a pro-verb and stands as the whole verb phrase in the question (verb + all objects); for example, “What did you do last night?” to which the answer would include a verb (e.g. I played video games last night).

** In order to ask a question about an adjective in a sentence you have to use the name of that attribution. For example in order to ask about the color of something you say “what color is that?” to which the answer is an adjective (e.g. red).

*** In order to ask the degree of an adjective or adverb we use “how + that adjective/adverb” for example “How fast were you driving?” to which the answer would be “I was driving very fast”

* Photo by  Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Ali Shahdoost

With 8 years of experience in digital marketing and content marketing and a few founded companies, I write here of my interests and thoughts.

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