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July 16, 2000 - Grammar Lady: Asking Questions - 2002-02-12

INTRO: Today on Wordmaster, Grammar Lady joins Avi Arditti to explain a few tricks about asking questions in English.

AA: To turn a statement into a question, usually all you have to do is invert the subject and the verb. Before Rosanne went on vacation we spoke with "Grammar Lady" Mary Newton Bruder who gave some examples.


"So you have a sentence like, `You are a teacher.' `Are you a teacher?' You just turn around the subject and the verb and you've got a question. `He will go tomorrow.' `Will he go tomorrow?' `They will go to Paris.' `Have they been to Paris.' So generally question formation in English is very, very easy and students don't have a problem with it...'

AA: But when it comes to learning English grammar, there seems to always be an exception.


"However, in the simple present tense and the simple past tense of most verbs, we have this little difficulty. So if you say, `He walks to school.' If you want to make that into a question, you have to say, `Does he walk to school.' And the first time the students encounter that, they think, `My good heavens, where did that "does" come from?'"

RS: "Well, where does it come from?"

BRUDER: "Well, it comes from the marker for the present tense. It's at the end of the verb. `He walks to school.' So now we have to use a marker that makes into the present:

'Does he walk to school?' And notice that walk, then, no longer has the `s,' but the present tense is indicated by the `does.'"

AA: Now let's say "he" is already at school, and I want to know how he got there. I would ask, "Did he walk to school?"


"Same way with `you walked to school': `Did you walk to school?' The students finally get the idea that here's this crazy thing we've got to do this with, and they eventually get that OK."

AA: Until they get to those tricky irregular verbs. Take the statement, "He goes home at 3 o'clock." "Does he go home at 3 o'clock?" OK, so there's nothing unusual about turning that into a question.

But now let's say "he went home at 3 o'clock."

How would you turn that into a question? The answer is, "Did he go home at 3 o'clock?" For people who don't know that the past tense of "go" is "went," that's a tough one.


AA: "I could see where you'd want to say, `Did he went home.'

BRUDER: "That's exactly what they want to say, `Did he went home.' And in fact, when children are learning English as a native language they say things like, for years, they'll say, `Daddy went to work, Daddy went to work.' And then when they learn that this is some kind of rule, they say `Daddy goed to work' and `Did he went to work?'"

RS: "You say, and we agree, that it is very difficult to learn, it's even difficult for a native speaker, for children, to learn, so how do we go about teaching it?"

BRUDER: "This only happens, remember, in the simple present and past tense. But since they're two very useful tenses in English, it happens a lot. But you learn, first of all, by using the regular verbs, like in the pattern of `walk' that I did before. And once they learn those -- because that's really a matter of learning the structure of the past tense -- then you introduce the irregular ones bit by bit, and make the students see that it's exactly the same pattern but they have to learn what the variations are in the irregular verbs."

AA: Mary Newton Bruder posts a lot of her grammar advice at her Web site: She's also written a book about grammar, called "Much Ado About a Lot."

Rosanne Skirble is on vacation. Next week VOA's Adams Phillips will be here to talk about how Yiddish has influenced American speech. I'm Avi Arditti, leaving you with Charley Pride asking a musical question with that irregular verb we were discussing ...

MUSIC: "Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger (When You Go Out at Night)"/Charlie Pride