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Be, Have & Do in Questions

November 7, 2019

Forming questions in English can be tricky for language learners. They need to be aware of subject-verb inversion and the difference between Yes/No and Wh- Questions. They must also become familiar with the different auxiliaries used for different tenses. Even in the simple present tense, there are differences in question formation patterns and auxiliary use between the Be verb and other verbs.

Is there an easy way to show these auxiliary differences clearly? I’ve found that showing charts with the various subjects in the different tenses, often side by side, is a great way for students to remember which auxiliaries to use in question formation.


When is the best time to present each chart below? It depends when you’ve introduced the various tenses in class. Here is a suggested guideline:

  • For beginner‑level learners, start with charts A and C (simple present).
  • For low‑intermediate students, present charts A through D (simple present/simple past).
  • Once your intermediate‑level learners have studied the present perfect, review charts A through D with them and present charts E and F.
  • For higher‑level students, present chart G and any others if you feel they’ll benefit from a quick review.

Lower Levels: Be & Do

A. Questions with Be: Simple Present

Subject Example
I Am I late?
You Are you from Brazil?
He Is he a good student?
She Is she tired today?
We Are we on time?
They Are they hungry?
Singular Noun Is that your dog?
Plural Noun Are the children tired?

B. Questions with Be: Simple Past

Subject Example
I Was I late?
You Were you in Brazil last month?
He Was he a good student?
She Was she tired yesterday?
We Were we on time?
They Were they hungry?
Singular Noun Was that your dog?
Plural Noun Were the children tired?

C. Questions with Do: Simple Present

Subject Example
I Do I have something stuck in my teeth?
You Do you need any help?
He Does he like vegetables?
She Does she have a dog?
We Do we know the room number?
They Do they play basketball?
Singular Noun Does your daughter watch cartoons?
Plural Noun Do your friends go out on weeknights?

D. Questions with Do: Simple Past

Subject Example
I Did I have something stuck in my teeth last night?
You Did you need any help?
He Did he like vegetables when he was young?
She Did she have a dog last year?
We Did we know the room number?
They Did they play basketball in high school?
Singular Noun Did your daughter watch cartoons last weekend?
Plural Noun Did your friends go out last night?

Higher Levels: Be, Have & Modals

E. Questions with Have: Present Perfect

Subject Example
I Have I forgotten something?
You Have you traveled to Europe?
He Has he eaten dinner?
She Has she done her homework?
We Have we come here before?
They Have they lived here long?
Singular Noun Has your friend studied English for a long time?
Plural Noun Have your coworkers gone to the meeting yet?

F. Questions with Have: Present Perfect Progressive

Subject Example
I Have I been forgetting things again?
You Have you been traveling in Europe?
He Has he been eating dinner for the past hour?
She Has she been doing her homework since 5:00 pm?
We Have we been coming here for two years or three?
They Have they been living here long?
Singular Noun Has your friend been studying English for a long time?
Plural Noun Have your coworkers been going to the monthly meetings?

G. Questions with Other Tenses & Modals

Tense Example
Present Progressive Am I going with you?
Simple Future with "will" Will you finish your homework on time?
Simple Future with "be going to" Is he going to take next Friday off?
Past Perfect Progressive Had she been studying English for a while before she got the job?
Modal of Advice Should we clean the apartment before we go?
Modal of Ability Can they speak Japanese?
Modal of Possibility Could that be her new boyfriend?
Present Passive Are my friends invited to your party?


Before presenting the charts in class, you may want to try eliciting the patterns for question formation for each subject in the tense(s) you’re covering (note: Aux = auxiliary verb or modal):

  • Be (simple present and simple past): Be + S + O
  • Do (simple present and simple past): Do + S + V + O
  • Have (present perfect): Have + S + V + O
  • Have (present perfect progressive): Have + S + V + V + O
  • Other tenses and modals: Aux + S + V (+ V) + O

For further practice, try some of the following activities:

  • Interviews: Have students interview each other. Assign a particular tense or let them ask anything they want. Have lower levels use a mix of questions with be, do, and can. Have higher levels use a mix of questions with be, do, have, and various modals.
  • Role‑Play: Have students do a role‑play using one type of question (e.g., two friends discussing likes and dislikes for practice with do questions, or two coworkers talking about places they’ve been for practice with have questions).
  • Examples: Have students come up with their own examples for the tenses in chart G.
  • Find Someone Who: Have students come up with 10 items to include in a Find Someone Who chart. Then have them walk around the class asking their classmates their questions. Make sure you tell them what types of questions (which auxiliaries and which tenses) you want them to include. Use this blank FSW template or make your own.


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Comments (4)

Adriana M.(Teacher)

Very good! It´s very helpful

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

I'm happy to hear that, Adriana! Thanks for your comment.

Augusto F.(Teacher)

Awesome! I'll use it during my next beginner's classes.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Let us know how it goes!

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