In the introduction to this series [1], we looked at some basic terminology, including:

· Question Words (Q) – words such as ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘what’, ‘why’ and so on. We saw that questions using these words mean that the answer given must be more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In other words, they need information in order to answer them, and not just ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

· Auxiliary Verbs (A) – these are the verbs ‘to be’, ‘to have’ and ‘to do’, and ‘modal verbs’ such as ‘must, may, might, can, shall’ and so on. These are ‘helping’ verbs.

· Subject (S) – The subject of the sentence, basically, shows who, or what, performs the ‘action’ in a sentence.

· Verb(s) (V) – The verb is, basically, the ‘action’ word in a sentence (for example, what is being done by the subject)

With this basic terminology, we can begin to work on question formation. However, we will introduce some more terminology as we progress.

When thinking about question formation, it is very useful to have the following basic structure in mind:

Question Word(s) – Auxiliary Verb – Subject – Verb(s)


Q + A + S + V

To this structure we will add ‘Rest’ (R). This, essentially, means anything else that is needed to make a meaningful question. It could, for example, be a time phrase. Do not worry too much about this. We will explain it as we progress. However, this means that the basic structure we need to remember is:

Q + A + S + V + R

Using some words to try and remember this is often useful. For example, ‘Queen Anne Surely Values Royalty’, or something similar, might help you to remember the structure and the order.

The Auxiliary Verb ‘to do’

When learning general English, you learn that the auxiliary verbs ‘to be’ and ‘to have’ are very important in English. The verb ‘to be’ for example, is used in forming the ‘present continuous’ (things someone is doing right now, currently, or about now), together with a verb in the ‘-ing’ form:

· He is signing the contract.

· She is talking to her lawyer.

The auxiliary verb ‘to do’ is very important, as it ‘helps’ to form many questions in English. For example:

Question Word Auxiliary Subject Verb Rest

Do you draft contracts?

Did she sign the contract?

We can see here that we have not used a question word. We have formed a ‘closed’ question, which can only be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

It is important to remember that when you use the auxiliary (helping) verb ‘do/does/did’ to form questions, the verb (V) is always in the ‘base form’. What is the ‘base form’? Almost all English verbs (except modal verbs) have a ‘to’ form. This is the form of the verb you will see in a dictionary. For example:

· to sign

· to draft

· to ratify

· to perform

· to breach, etc

The ‘base form’ of a verb is just the verb without the ‘to’. In other words:

· sign

· draft

· ratify

· perform

· breach

When forming questions with the auxiliary ‘to do’, it is important to remember that the form, ‘do’, in the present simple, changes to ‘does’ when using the third person (he/she/it).

Do you practise law?

Does he/she practise law?



Look at the words in each of 1-5 below. Make closed questions by re-arranging the words and using the appropriate tense. The first one is an example. (Note: All verbs are in the ‘to’ form) [Think carefully about the QASVR structure]

to sign yesterday he to do the contract

Did he sign the contract yesterday?

1. the government to ratify to do to want the treaty

2 to practise to do commercial law this firm

3 this morning the draft contract to email to do you

4 to do to use contract management software the company

5 to start the meeting to do at 2 o’clock


1. Does the government want to ratify the treaty?

2. Does this firm practise commercial law?

3. Did you email the draft contract this morning?

4. Does the company use contract management software?

5. Does the meeting start at 2 o’clock?

(c) Cambridge Legal English Academy 2021

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