What’s in a question?

Who, what, where, when and why. These are the beginnings of interrogative sentences. They are a type of sentence that requires an answer and always ends with a question mark. They are best used in dialogue and often called questions.

Unless I’m writing in the first person I try to avoid interrogative sentences in the narrative. Mostly because I write the in the third person and narrative questions come off as rhetorical and out-of-place. In the first person, they fit better because a rhetorical question is easy to read as the characters’ thought.

There are four types of Interrogative sentences to be used.

The yes-no
The alternative
The Wh-
The Tags

The yes-no are questions that elicit a yes or no answer.

Dale popped his head around the desk divide. “Hey, Amber did you take your vitamin?” 
“Yes.” She scowled. “Do you have to nag?”
“Yes.” He smiled and kissed her forehead quickly. “Yes, I do.”


“Dale are you ready to go?” Amber tapped her foot on the tiled floor.
“Yes, I am.”


“Scott do you have that proof ready?”
He ran his hands through his hair. “No.”

The alternative – Are sentences that can result in two or more answers.

Dale smiled at Amber. “Do you want Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or all three?”
“All three… Ooh and butterscotch.”


“Should I finish this now or later?” Scott looked up at Valery.
“Hmm. Later.” She tapped her chin. “I need you to run the reports first.”

Wh-  they are sentences that have the Wh- words. Who, what, where, when and why. They force an open answer that is not a yes or no. 

“Ouch, he’s hot. Who was that?” Jeannie asked quietly as Detective Thorn passed their desk.
Amber rolled her eyes. “Ugh, the detective who’s looking for Sasha.”
“Why is he looking for her?”
Amber shrugged. “She’s MIA and in trouble or something.”
“What did she do?”
“Nothing, I think that crazy face slasher guy is after her.”
Jeannie frowned. “That’s scary.”
“Very. I’m not a fan of Sasha, but I hope she’s okay.”

Last but not least are Tag questions. A declarative sentence with a question tagged on at the end. It leads to a yes-no or sometimes a statement answer.

“You finished that proof, didn’t you?”


“You finished that proof, didn’t you?”
“I ran out of time, but it will be done first thing in the morning.”


“It’s dark out already?”


“It’s dark out already?”
“And has been for two hours.”

Questions or interrogative sentences keep things going, they get the readers’ wheels turning. In dialogue, they can be key to keeping things from becoming boring. It’s also natural.

In the narrative, it can become tricky.

Third person.

“I‘ll get it, Scott said as he jogged up the stairs. Why was he always the one to have to go? He scowled at the thought.

While this can feel natural when written because the words I write come from inside my head, it’s not the best way to express that.

“I’ll get it,” Scott said and scowled as he jogged up the stairs. He went because nobody else ever did. 

There better. Let me try another.

“Seriously Dale I need you to stop.” Amber swatted his hand away. Why was he always so annoying after work?

This comes across as the first person but the story is third. Let me try again.

“Seriously Dale I need you to stop.” Amber swatted his hand away. He was always more annoying after work. 

Now when in the first person to start with a narrative question might not be so bad.

I walked into the room and felt instantly at home. Why? I had no idea.

Still, I would probably change that too.

I walked into the room and instantly felt at home; I have no idea why.


I have no idea why I felt instantly at home when I walked into the room.

I can’t write dialogue without questions of one kind or another, it’s necessary because it’s realistic. My fault lies in the questions I dump into the narrative. I have to stop and ask myself, does it belong there? Is it actually ‘inner thought’ of the character or am I being rhetorical in my own mind’s voice? Chances are I need to rephrase that narrative.

My advice about interroragtive sentences in writing.
Advice is only that, advice. Should you keep interrogative sentences and questions in the narrative of a story? Only you can answer that, I don’t like to. Let me ask you. “Should it be in dialogue?” I’d answer, “Yes, yes it should.”


Other grammar-ish posts

Hey! Its’ Interjection

Word swap

It’s not, not negative

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3 thoughts on “What’s in a question?

    • It’s something that has recently come to mind for me as I wrote a story in the first person and noticed I used a lot of this. Now as I’m editing BiaAtlas I’m finding them in the narrative and editing them out.


      • Strange how it becomes a part of how we relate and you don’t notice it until it is written. I’ve heard ppl talk like that, almost in third person and wondered what they were doing _almost as though divorcing themselves from what they were saying…

        Liked by 2 people

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