What Is a Direct Question? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

What Is a Direct Question? (with Examples)

A direct question is a question that can be answered (i.e., it is not a statement) and always ends in a question mark. For example:
  • Have you ever sent a text message to the wrong person?
  • Do you fold your pizza when you eat it?
  • What would be the coolest animal to scale up to the size of a horse?
  • Who was your worst teacher?
  • Would you rather be a hobbit or an elf for a day?
  • In the apocalypse, would you rather tough it alone or try to find a community to live in?
A direct question is an interrogative sentence.

The Difference between a Direct Question and an Indirect Question

An indirect question is a question embedded within a statement or another question. A sentence featuring an indirect question might not end in a question mark. In the two examples below, the indirect questions are shaded.
  • Lee is asking if the ticket is valid.
  • (This is a statement, not a question. The direct question is "Is the ticket valid?" Notice that the indirect question "if the ticket is valid" has the same subject-verb word order as a statement (i.e., "the ticket is valid"). This is an example of an indirect question in a declarative sentence (i.e., a statement). Note that there is no question mark.)
  • Is Lee asking if the ticket is valid?
  • (This time, the indirect question is embedded in a question. Again, the direct question is "Is the ticket valid?" This is an example of an indirect question in an interrogative sentence (i.e., a question). Note that there is now a question mark.)
Read more about indirect questions.

direct question

Examples of Direct Questions

There are 3 basic types of question:
  • (Type 1) Yes/No Questions.

    Example: Do you like celery?
  • (The answer to a yes/no question will be yes or no.)
    (Answer to this question: No.)
  • (Type 2) "Question Word" Questions.

    Example: What is celery salt?
  • (The answer to a "question word" question will be some information.)
    (Answer: Celery salt is a seasoned salt made from ground celery seeds and table salt.)
  • (Type 3) Choice Questions.

    Example: Do you want garlic salt or celery salt?
  • (The answer to a choice question will be in the question.)
    (Answer: Garlic salt)
NB: If you look again at the six questions at the top of this page, you will notice that the top two are yes/no questions, the next two are question-word questions, and the last two are choice questions.

Forming Yes/No Questions (with Examples)

Yes/no questions are formed:

Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Main Verb + Remainder

Here are some examples of yes/no questions:
Auxiliary VerbSubjectMain VerbRemainder Possible Answer
CanSimonswim? No, he can't.
Hasshefinishedscreaming?No, she hasn't.
DoesPeterwantto stay?Yes, he does.
Didtheyleavesoon after me?Yes, they did.
Willyoubehappy?Yes, I will.

With the verb to be in the present tense or the past tense, the format is:
Verb To BeSubjectRemainder Possible Answer
Areyouhappy?Yes, I am.
Washehappy?Yes, he was.

Note: As an auxiliary verb is required to form the future tense, the format for the verb to be in the future tense is the same as normal. (Look at the last row of the first table above.)

Forming "Question Word" Questions

"Question word" questions are formed:

Question Word + Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Main Verb + Remainder

Here are some examples of "question word" questions:
Question WordAuxiliary VerbSubjectMain VerbRemainder Possible Answer
Wheredidshego? London.
Whyhavetheystartedthe play early?Because of the rain.
WhenwillLeecatcha decent bass? Probably never.
Whomishefightingon Saturday? Some French lunatic.

When the question word is who, the format is:
Question Word
(and Subject)
Main VerbRemainderPossible Answer
WhotaughtLee to fish?No one.
Whois thinkingabout Saturday?I am.

When using the verb to be in the present or past tense, the format is:
Question WordVerb To BeSubjectRemainderPossible Answer
WhenisEaster Sunday? Before Easter Monday.
Whyareyouangry?No reason.

Read more about the question words:

What are interrogative pronouns?
What are interrogative adjectives?

Forming Choice Questions

Choice questions are formed:

Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Main Verb + Choice 1 + "or" + Choice 2

Here are some examples of choice questions:
Auxiliary VerbSubjectMain VerbChoice 1orChoice 2Possible Answer
Doyoudrinkteaorcoffee?Tea.
DidLeecatcha whelkora bass?A whelk.

When using the verb to be in the present or past tense, the format is:
Verb To BeSubjectChoice 1orChoice 2Possible Answer
Isittrueorfalse?It's true.
Wereyoudisappointedorangry?Angry.

More about Direct Questions

A direct question could be rhetorical. A rhetorical question is a direct question that does not require an answer.

Rhetorical questions are commonly used like obvious statements. For example:
  • What's not to like?
  • What is the matter with kids today?
They can also be useful for introducing a topic and showing impartiality. For example:
  • What happened to your vote?
  • Was the project worth the money?
Read more about rhetorical question.

Why Should I Care about Direct Questions?

If you're studying or teaching English, then learning the various question structures is essential. The ability to ask questions is important.
  • He who asks a question is a fool for a minute. He who does not remains a fool forever. (Chinese proverb)
  • The important thing is never the stop questioning. (Physicist Albert Einstein)
Here are two good reasons for native English speakers to care a bit more about direct questions.

(Reason 1) Don't use a question mark with a non-question.

By far the most common mistake related to direct questions is using a question mark at the end of a sentence that isn't a question. This mistake typically occurs when the sentence contains an indirect question. In these examples, the indirect questions are shaded.
  • Anna needs to know when the parcel will arrive?
  • Tell me if you have any allergies?
  • (These are not questions. There should be no question marks.)
Before using a question mark, make sure the whole sentence is a question.
  • Does Anna need to know when the parcel will arrive?
  • Will you tell me if you have any allergies?
Read more about indirect questions.

(Reason 2) Rhetorical direct questions make good titles and are good for adding a touch of diplomacy.

Rhetorical direct questions make good titles because they encourage readers to consider the answer before reading on.
  • Who Was Responsible for the Flu Pandemic?
  • (This is more engaging than a title like "Responsibility for the Flu Pandemic".)
Rhetorical direct questions are also good for introducing the content without exposing the author's bias.
  • Was BREXIT worth it?
  • (Presented as a rhetorical question, this title does not fully expose the author's bias on the matter of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.)
Read more about rhetorical questions.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What is an indirect question? What is an interrogative sentence? What is a declarative sentence? What are auxiliary verbs? What is the subject of sentence? What are interrogative pronouns? What are interrogative adjectives? Glossary of grammatical terms