‘Want you do it?’ vs. ‘Do you want to do it?’ – Word order in questions in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: Did you know that “colonel” is pronounced the same as “kernel”? Read my list of the most common pronunci­ation mistakes in English (PDF version).

Word order in questions in English is something people usually get used to very fast, but it may become confusing in connection with subordinate clauses. There are two types of questions in English:

The yes–no questions


These questions are most commonly of the following form:

Does someone do something?

and its variants in different tenses, such as

Will she go to the cinema?
Has Peter finished the essay?
Are you watching porn?!

Whenever there’s an auxiliary verb in a sentence that is not a question and just carries information (so called declarative sentences, for example “will” in “she will go to the cinema”), the auxiliary verb takes the first place in the corresponding yes-no question. However, when there is no auxiliary verb in the declarative sentence, we still use the verb “do” in a question:

Do you want to go to the cinema? (correct)
You want to go to the cinema? (wrong)
Want you to go to the cinema? (wrong)
Yes–no questions are phrased differently for the verb “to be”:
Is something so?
that is, we never use the auxiliary verb “do”:
Is it green? (correct)
Does it be green? (wrong)
Were you there? (correct)
Did you be there? (wrong)

However, in tenses where there is an auxiliary verb, it is still there in questions:

Will you be mad?
Has it been prepared?
Are you being served?

Why, where, when etc. questions

The second class of questions are of the following form:

Why does someone do something?
where, of course, “Why” can be replaced by “Where”, “When”, “How” etc. In fact, these questions look exactly the same as yes–no questions; the only difference is the one word at the beginning:

However, in tenses where there is an auxiliary verb, it is still there in questions:

Why will you be mad?
How has it been prepared?
By whom are you being served?

Again, don’t forget the auxiliary verb “do”:

Why do you go there? (correct)
Why you go there? (wrong)
Why go you there? (wrong)
If we ask about the subject by using “what” or “who”, they already serve as the subject in the question, and the structure is as follows:
Who is she?
What killed him?

Note: This article was based on my book about the most common mistakes in English. There is also a PDF version – why don’t you check it out?

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