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American Grammar Checkup: Traps for the Unwary, Part 1

American Grammar Checkup: Traps for the Unwary, Part 1

Brush Up on Your
American Grammar Skills

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When is a question not a question? When it’s a statement.

It’s Monday, and the American Grammar Checkup series is back, thanks to what I'm seeing on posts all across many social media platforms.

Although many writers use English well, some are falling into some common traps that they may not be aware of. And sometimes I think it’s because the word order in English is often different from that of other languages . . . but it’s usually critical for creating grammatically correct English sentences and full understanding.

Today’s focus is on how to form questions in English (and that group of words is not a question, even though it includes the word “how”) – especially with titles of posts.

I have seen many post titles recently that look like the ones below:

     Why we should write our goals down?

     How I plan my day to include everything?

     What you are saying to yourself without realizing it?

     Where you find your best ideas?

     How to form questions in English?


Just starting a group of words with “how” or “why” doesn’t automatically make the group of words a question in English.


In the first four examples, the word order is wrong for each to be a question. Usually a verb will follow “how” or “why” to make the entire group of words a question.


NO: Why we should write our goals down?

YES: Why we should write our goals down

YES: Why should we write our goals down?


NO: How I plan my day to include everything?

YES: How I plan my day to include everything

YES: How can I plan my day to include everything?


NO: What you are saying to yourself without realizing it?

YES: What you are saying to yourself without realizing it

YES: What are you saying to yourself without realizing it?


NO: Where you find your best ideas?

YES: Where you find your best ideas

YES: Where do you find your best ideas?


Writing the words without any end mark of punctuation is fine when you’re writing the title of your post if the words are not a complete sentence.


The one time using a verb after “how” or “why” does not make the words a question is when we use the infinitive form (the one that starts with “to”).


How to form questions in English does include a verb right after "how," but it’s the infinitive form, so the group of words is not a question. If you want to turn those words into a question, they need to be something like “How should / do / can we form questions in English?”

Another simple way to form a question in English is to start with the verb!

Do you want more cake?

Can I help you?

Does all this make sense?


Remember, my knowledge is strictly about English – specifically, American English and grammar. While I did take four years of French and Latin in high school, and I can understand a little written French, Spanish, and Italian, I have forgotten 99% of what I was taught.

Does this post help?

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Comments
Thanks so much for sharing my post, Jill Dawson! I really appreciate it!

John Rylance

5 years ago #3

Perhaps the writer should ask themselves I am giving or seeking information, and punctuate accordingly. I must admit when I read the where you find your ideas?, I possibly subconsciously put in the word do. I had to look at the piece that followed to realise what was wrong and what I had in advertedly done.
#1
Heck, @Robert McCormack, I think for some, English may be their fourth or fifth language! I applaud anyone writing in a language that he or she didn't grow up using. And you're dead-on with "neither." Thanks!

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #1

Another good post Susan \ud83d\udc1d Rooks. You bring up a good point. Some of the writers may have English as their second language. English can be confusing particularly when one word predicates the other such as: Neither party is responsible. Neither is singular. Same as when you say: Neither of the parties is responsible. Confusion comes with: Both parties are responsible. Thanks for the post.

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