Polar question

From Teflpedia

A polar question, also known as a yes/no question, or an affirmative-negative question is a question to which the expected answer is yes (affirmative) or no (negative). Polar questions begin with an auxiliary verb or modal verb and are usually, but not always, answered using the same auxiliary/modal verb.

Form

Examples

  • Do you like chocolate? - Yes, I do/No, I don't
  • Does she speak English? - Yes, she does/No, she doesn't
  • Are you ready? - Yes, we are/No, we aren't
  • Do you want to eat?- Yes, I do/No, I don't
  • Are you going to the party?-Yes I am/No I'm not

Correct responses

It is important that students learn to include the modal verb after "yes" or "no" as answering with a simple "yes" or "no" will be taken by a native speaker to indicate that the speaker is either being rude or has no interest in the conversation and the conversation will end abruptly, with both parties feeling mildly offended. Obviously the speaker can omit the "I do" part if (s)he then goes on to say something else immediately afterwards:

  • Does she speak English? - No, but she's started taking lessons.

Students should also take care to repeat the modal or auxiliary and not the verb. In other words, the answer to the question Do you like chocolate? is Yes, I do. not *Yes, I like. This is particularly the case with transitive verbs that require an object, such as "like".

Not all questions beginning with Did/Are you...? etc. lead to a simple yes/no answer. One way of getting students to respond more fully is by asking "either/or" questions, for instance, Did you..., or were you..?

The third possible answer, sometimes overlooked is "I don't know" or a hedging word such as maybe or perhaps.

Indirect speech

In indirect speech (reported speech), we can use the verb ask plus "if" or "whether". For example:

  • A to B: "Do you like chocolate?"
  • B to C (reporting): "A asked me if I liked chocolate." or "A asked me whether (or not) I liked chocolate."

Backshifting may not occur: "A asked me if I like chocolate."/"A asked me whether (or not) I like chocolate."

Pronunciation

Polar questions typically have a rising intonation.