11.1   Questions and Commands

QUESTIONS are normally used to request information and COMMANDS are normally used to influence the behavior of others

11.2   Form and function

Form of a sentence is related with its grammatical structure and function of a sentence is related with what people use it for.

It is not true that questions always request information or that any sentence which requests information is a question. Questions also can be used to influence others’ behavior, a function normally associated with commands.

(1)   a. Why don’t we start now?

  1. How many times do I have to tell you to stop whistling in the house.

Sometimes people ask a question when they really aren’t asking for information; such questions are called RHETORICAL QUESTIONS.

(2)   a. How should we understand this problem? I will suggest a way …

  1. Could we find a better solution than the one Maria has proposed? Certainly not!
  2. What do we need in a formal analysis to handle this data? First we should . . .

similarly, statements and commands are sometimes used with the function of questions: to request information.

(3)   a.  I’d like to find out more about your dried artichoke collection.

  1. Tell me everything you remember about the robber’s appearance.

The form is its grammatical structure, whether it is a statement, question, or command. Each form has a primary function, but in English each can also be used for functions typical of the others.

                                 Primary function                         Secondary functions


Convey information

other’s behavior


Request information

others’ behavior
topic and otherwise make explicit the structure of the discourse.


influence others’ behavior


The distinction between primary and secondary functions is important for three reasons.

       One, the primary function is what we uses as the basis for naming a form.

       Two, primary functions are what allow us to identify a structure in one language as being in some sense ‘the same as’ a structure in another.

       Three, although the primary functions of questions will be the same in all languages, the secondary functions vary quite a bit from one language to the next.

A full description of a language includes pragmatic information about the secondary uses of statements, questions, and commands.

11.3   Intonation: Distinguishing two types of questions

Wh-questions normally have falling intonation and Yes/No questions normally have rising intonation.

(5)   a. Who killed Cock Robin?

  1. Where did you park the car?
  2. How old were you when you were born?

(6)   a. I s that your great Uncle Harold?

  1. Does this course count toward your degree?
  2. Did you bake that blueberry pie?

The questions in (5) are used to ask a question such as ‘who?’, ‘where?’, ‘when?’, ‘what?’, ‘why?’, and ‘how?’, we call then CONTENT QUESTIONS or INFORMATION QUESTIONS. Questions (6) have an expected ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ answer and we call them YES-NO QUESTIONS or TRUTH-VALUE QUESTION.

11.4   Content questions

There are two differences to note between the questions and statements. One is that the questions include what is traditionally called an INTERROGATIVE ADVERB, a word like ‘where?’, ‘when?’, or ‘how?’, each is used to question a particular type of constituent. We will call them and other similar words INTERROGATIVE WORDS. In content questions, we sometimes say that the interrogative word allows us to QUESTION a particular category, function, or meaning. For example, (7a) questions an AdvP of location and (8a) questions time.

(7)   a. Where does John eat corn?

  1. John eats corn there.

(8)   a. When does John eat corn?

  1. John eats corn early.

       The second difference between the questions and statements is that interrogative words questioning obliques occur at the beginning of the clause, but ordinary obliques occur at the end.

11.5   Yes-no questions

     Yes/No questions normally have rising intonation. Let’s compare the two sentences between a Yes/No-question and a statement.

(9)   a. Is Pierre there?

  1. Pierre is there.

11.6   Change in word order

       Another strategy for forming yes-no questions is a change word order, typically placing the main verb at or near the beginning of the sentence.

(10)   a. Can I go now?

  1. I can go now.

(11)   a. can I not go now?

  1. I can not go now?

This analysis assumes that auxiliary verbs are distinguished from other verbs in the lexicon by carrying the feature [Aux], when gets incorporated into deep structure trees such as the following  for both (11a) and (11b).

To form the yes-no question (11b), we need an optional transformation which moves the auxiliary verb to the front of the sentence.