6

For example, take a statement like this:

You have no idea what the thing is.

If we ask it as a question, where should the is go?

1) Have you any idea what the thing is?

2) Have you any idea what is the thing?

I dimly remember that the second sentence is grammatically correct.

6

Of the choices, number 1 is correct. I can't see a form where sentence 2 is grammatically correct. There are two questions being asked in it: Have you any idea ...? and what is the thing?

The first example you provided is the most direct, correct translation from the original sentence to a question. That is the correct answer for your question, as posed.

However, as Jim points out, your average native speaker would not turn the original sentence into your example question even though it would be technically correct to do so. Depending on context, the most likely form would be - again as Jim said -

Do you have any idea what that thing is?

An alternative would be to add ', do you?' to the end of the original sentence giving:

You have no idea what the thing is, do you?

In fact, depending on context you could simply replace the fullstop in the sentence with a question mark and (making sure you use some inflection) say the question that way.

PS: Given English speakers' generally lazy approach to speech, the most common version of the question would probably be 'What's that?'

13

Here is a definitive guide to forming questions in English:

Questions in English always take one of a few forms, mostly centered around the verbs to be and to do, the interrogative adjectives and pronouns (where, who, why, how, which, what, where), the phrases is there... / are there..., and whatever other verbs or nouns may be involved.

My first piece of advice is to get used to the patterns of the helping verbs to do and to be. Remember that for the purpose of asking questions, will can be thought of as the future tense version of to do.


So here are the basic forms for asking yes/no questions. Always use these forms for yes/no questions.

Future
Will [you or I or they or he or she or we or it]...
Are [you or we or they] going to.... / Am I going to.... / Is [he or she or it] going to...

The two different forms are synonymous, and you can use them interchangeably.

Example: Will you go to Spain?
Example: Are you going to go to Spain?
Example: Are we going to get ice cream tonight?
Example: Will we have anything to drink?
Example: Will Emily be there?
Example: Is Emily going to be there?

Present
Are [you or they]... / Is [he or she or it] / Am [I or we]...
Do [I or you or they or we]... / Does [he or she or it]...

Example: Do you know what that is?
Example: Does he like her?
Example: Are we too old to ride the merry-go-round?
Example: Is she your friend?
Example: Is John here?

Use the to do form for present tense verbs -- Do you understand? -- and the to be form for description using adjectives or nouns or locations -- Is this easy? Are you a good student? Is it here? Is Sam on the roof?

However, use to be for present participle verbs (the -ing tense) -- Are you enjoying yourself? Is this making sense? I know that you may not understand when to use the present participle versus the normal present tense, so I will do my best to explain.

Use the present participle when you want to ask if someone or something is doing something right now.

Example: Are you baking cookies?
Example: Is he watching TV?
Example: Are they going to the store?

Use the present tense when you want to ask if it's true that someone or something does something in general.

Never use the present participle with the verbs to have, to like, or to know.

Example: Do you know my name?
Example: Does she have a job?
Example: Do they like cake?
Example: Does Paul know where the car is?

Here are some WRONG examples: Are you liking this party? Is he having a car?

Past
Were [you or they or we]... / Was [I or he or she or it]...
Did [I or you or they or he or she or we or it]...

As with the present tense, use did (past tense of to do) when asking questions involving verbs. Use were/was (past tense of to be) when asking questions involving descriptions with adjectives, nouns, or location.

Example: Did you kill that guy?
Example: Did I fall asleep?
Example: Was the car blue?
Example: Were you here the whole time?
Example: Was Katie there?
Example: Were you always this fat? Example: Is the cat in the house?
Example: Is Matt near the pool?
Example: Are you a cow?

Is there / Are there (in all tenses)

Is there / Are there... (present) Was there / Were there... (past) Will there be.... (future)

Voila. Examples:

Is there a reason you're learning English?
Were there always trees here?
Will there be hover cars in the future?
Are there sharks in this pond?
Was there anything there?

Using a Questioning Tone with Declarative Statements

Lastly, let me explain that you can form a yes/no question in English by using a questioning tone while making a declarative statement. If you say You like cars? instead of Do you like cars?, that's perfectly okay, so long as you say it like a question. However, as a learner, you should not do this. Practice using the other forms above until you can use them fluently. They will take much more practice than this method.


Okay, so that gets essentially all yes/no questions out of the way. Now we want to focus on the second type of questions -- questions using the interrogative pronouns and adjectives: who, what, when, which, why, where, whose and how. Here we go.

I assume you already know what each of those words is used for -- this guide explains order of words for each of the interrogative adverbs -- it does not explain what they are used for. That can easily be learned elsewhere by simply translating each word into your own language.

Here's the cool thing -- you already know most of what you need. These questions usually just combine an interrogative adverb with one of the yes/no forms above.

Rule #1: The helping verb always comes directly after the interrogative pronoun. This does not apply to which or whose, as they are interrogative adjectives and should be followed by a noun, then the helping verb.

Rule #2: If the helping verb is is, you can contract it with who, what, why, how, and where.

Where isWhere's
Who isWho's

Etc - How's, Why's, What's.

Rule #3: In spoken language, are and will are often also contracted with those same words as 're and 'll. It sounds like an L or R added onto the end of the interrogative pronoun. What're ya doin?? Do not do this in writing, it is incorrect -- I'm giving this tip to help you understand native speakers and to help you sound more native yourself.


Who

Who can be used to form some extremely simple questions in the following forms:

In this first simple form, who is followed by to be conjugated to match the noun after it.

Who is that? Who am I? Who is this man? Who are you? Who are they? etc. (Who + to be + pronoun)

In this second simple form, who is followed by a verb conjugated in the third person singular, and then an object noun or pronoun.

Who wants this hat? Who will help me? Who did this? Who killed him? etc. (Who + verbs + object noun/pronoun)

And then you can combine who with the previously described yes/no forms to create other questions. The important thing is that who replaces either the subject or object of the question...you have to know which! Here's an example.

Is he going to help me?Who is he going to help? or Who is going to help me? or Who is going to help who?

We simply added who at the beginning and just took out either the subject (the person doing the helping) or the object (the person being helped). Here are more examples. Remember that the verb to be is always conjugated for the third person singular (He is/She is/It is/Who is) when it follows who in a question. The only exception is for identifying groups: Who are they? Who are those people?.

Am I on fire?Who is on fire?
Is he your cousin?Who is your cousin?
Do I like chocolate?Who likes chocolate?
Are we going to Spain?Who is going to Spain?

The other way to use who is with to do, and it is also done the same as with to be, except for the rule about conjugation. To do should always be properly conjugated after who in a question. To do is only used when who is the object, so just take out the object and add who at the beginning!

Examples:

Do you like her?Who do you like?
Does she look like Marilyn Monroe?Who does she look like?
Did you hurt someone?Who did you hurt?


Whose

This one is easy. Whose is always followed by a noun, and then a verb.

The conjugation of the verb here always matches the noun before it.

Examples:

Whose cows are those?
Whose children are missing?
Whose car was destroyed?


Why

Why is also easy. All you have to do is put it in front of a yes/no question and you're done. No exceptions.

Examples:

Is he going to America?Why is he going to America?
Did you buy the plant?Why did you buy the plant?
Will George come with us?Why will George come with us?


When

When is the same as why. Extremely easy. Just add it in front of any yes/no question involving something happening. No exceptions.

Examples:

Does this movie end?When does this movie end?
Am I going to die?When am I going to die?
Will you help us?When will you help us?


Where

Where is most easily used in the following form, where to be is always conjugated to match the noun which follows it:

Where am I? Where is the house? Where are my children? Where were you? Where was the dog? (Where + to be + noun/pronoun)

But where can also be used to ask where something is happening, where something happened, or where something will happen. It works like this: Where + to do + noun/pronoun + main verb.

If it's in the future, just use will instead of to do.

Examples:

Where does he like to go?
Where do babies come from?
Where did Dad lose his wallet?
Where will I go?
Where will the nuns sit?

As always, if you're asking about something that's happening now, use the present participle and the helping verb to be.

Where are we going?
Where are they putting the money?

If you're trying to find something, use where + is there / are there and an indefinite article:

Where is there a bathroom?
Where are there some painkillers?
Where is there a gas station?

Note that this is often the same as just using the simple form of where with an indefinite article:

Where is a bathroom?
Where are some painkillers?
Where is a gas station?

You could also say:

Where can [I / we] find a bathroom?
Where can [I / we] find some painkillers?
Where can [I / we] find a gas station?


Which

As a learner, it's easiest and most natural-sounding to just always follow which with a noun. What comes next depends on whether the noun is the subject or the object.

If it's the object, you need the helping verb to do, conjugated to match the subject as always, followed by the subject and the main verb.

Which car do you want?
Which house does he live in?
Which dog did we buy?

Of course, as always, you use to be instead of to do for the present participle.

Which country are you traveling in?
Which plant is he watering?

But if the noun after which is the subject, then you just add which at the beginning of the sentence and nothing else changes. (Although you remove any articles before the noun.)

A boy kissed you.Which boy kissed you?
This cat meowed.Which cat meowed?
The angel is flying away.Which angel is flying away?

If you or your conversation partner already mentioned the noun, and you don't want to say the word twice, you can use the word one instead to take the place of any noun. You will understand what I mean when you read these examples:

Prior statement: I want a car. Response: Which one do you want?
Prior statement: He bought a cat. Response: Which one did he buy?
Prior statement: We are going to a store. Response: Which one are you going to?

Note that in many cases, you can use what instead of which. It isn't always as proper, but it is a common usage. Please avoid doing this while you're learning.


What

What is actually pretty easy at the beginning of a question.

Here is its simple form:

What is that? What is it? What are they? What are those? What are these? What is the meaning of life? What is a cow? What is your name?

Then here it is with verbs and stuff. Use to do in general, and use to be with the present participle, as always.

What are you doing?
What does he do for fun?
What will you do when they come for you?
What did he like about the book?

What is also used for describing physical qualities such as color and size:

What color is the house?
What size is your shirt?
What shape is the object?

In general, we do not usually use what with is there / are there in English. Look:

There is something in the box.What is in the box?, not *What is there in the box?"

And don't forget the classic phrases:

What happened?
What's going on?
What's up? (This is a common greeting. Common answer: Not much, you?)


How

How has several uses.

The first is for asking in what manner something is done.

It follows the same pattern as everything else -- use to do as a helping verb for everything except the present participle. Conjugate the helping verb and leave the main verb unconjugated.

The future tense, with will, does not require to do. Just switch will and the subject noun.

*I open this door. → How do I open this door?
He knows where the cat is.How does he know where the cat is?
We are leaving the country.How are we leaving the country?
We fix things.How do we fix things?
I will help you.How will I help you?

The second usage of how is in the phrases how much and how many. Here's how you know which one to use:

If you're asking about the quantity of a countable noun that isn't time or money, use How many...

How many cats are there? There are 5 cats.
How many countries did you visit? I visited 4 countries.

If you're asking about time, money, weight, or an uncountable noun like food, any liquid or gas (water, air, milk, smoke, oil, steam, orange juice), use How much...

Examples:

How much does it cost? It costs 10 dollars. How much time do we have? We have 2 hours. How much water is there? There is a lot of water. How much do you weight? I weight 330 pounds.

Forming these questions is not difficult:

  1. Take the question in yes/no form.
  2. Put How much... / How many... at the beginning.
  3. Remove any definite or indefinite or negative articles from in front of the noun (the cow/a cow/an apple/any apples/no apples).
  4. Move the noun in question to be right after How much... / How many...
  5. If the sentence uses is there, change it to are there, since this kind of question is always plural.

Look at these examples:

Do you like to have cats?How many cats do you like to have? Are there any exits?How many exits are there? *Were there girls at the party? → How many girls were there at the party?
Do we have any money?How much money do we have? Is there any time?How much time is there? Is there any water in that bottle?How much water is there in that bottle?

For weight, always just say How much [do/does/did/will] X weigh?, where X is the noun. For plural, put it like this: How much do X Ys weigh?, where X is a number and Y is the noun.

How much do you weigh? How much did Mark weigh? How much do 10 pigs weigh?


Negative Questions

This is kind of complicated. Brace yourself.

Yes/no questions

In English, you can simply change the helping verb in any yes/no question from positive to negative, but it changes the connotation of the question. It does not make the question negative. I will explain after some examples.

Is there a shark in this pond? Isn't there a shark in this pond?
Do you love me? Don't you love me?
Will there be cake? Won't there be cake?
Does the cat ever meow? Doesn't the cat ever meow?
Are you my friend? Aren't you my friend?

So. Technically you're asking the same question either way in each case. However, by making the helping verb negative, you're expressing some worry or suspicion. Isn't there a shark in this pond? implies that you previously heard there was a shark in the pond, and are suspicious. You're not just asking. You probably wouldn't believe the person even if they told you there are no sharks in the pond. Won't there be cake? implies that you are worried there will be no cake.

To make a yes/no question with a main verb truly negative, you need to insert the word not before the main verb of the sentence. Study these examples:

Does he not like me?
Am I not coming with you?
Will they not forgive us?
Did we not win?

If there is no main verb besides to be, there are other two possibilities:

1. Is there / Are there

If the noun is plural (including uncountable nouns like liquids and gases -- water, air, smoke, etc), put not any in front of it. If the noun is singular, either put not a in front of it, or make it plural, put not any in front of it, and change is to are. The meaning stays the same.

Is there any water?Is there not any water?
Are there cows here?Are there not any cows here?
Is there any music playing?Is there not any music playing?

By the way, some nouns have both uncountable and countable forms. Be careful for those! The most common is fire. Both Is there any fire? and Are there any fires? are correct but have different meanings. This is very hard to explain, and I cannot think how to do it right now. But maybe someone else will edit in the difference later.

Another very common noun with two forms is light. Both Is there any light? and Are there any lights? are correct. This is easier to explain-- the first refers to light in general. If a place is not dark, there is light. The second refers to electric sources of light, usually in the ceiling or walls. Most rooms have lights.

2. To be by itself with no other verb

Questions like Is it red? Are you tired? Are we finished? Are the pets in the house? Are the victims okay? Is my hat on the shelf?

For questions like these, place not immediately after the main subject noun.

Is it not red? Are you not tired? Are we not finished? Are the pets not in the house? Are the victims not okay? Is my hat not on the shelf?

Now then. Take a deep breath before we start...

Negative questions involving who, what, when, where, why, how, and whose

Negative Who

It's very simple. If you can make a negative statement, you can make a negative question.

Who wants this hat?Who doesn't want this hat?

It's the same as a statement! Just make the verb negative the same way you normally would.

He wants this hat. He doesn't want this hat.

Another example:

Who is going to Spain?Who is not going to Spain? or Who isn't going to Spain?

Just make the verb negative!

Negative Whose

Same as who. Just make the verb negative. Remember, contraction is optional with is + not and are + not.

Whose children are here?Whose children are not here? or Whose children aren't here?
Whose cat ran away?Whose cat did not run away?

Negative Why

Again, just make the verb negative.

Why is he going to American?Why isn't he going to America?
Why will George leave?Why won't George leave?

Negative When

Just change the verb to negative. Noticing a pattern?

Negative Where

Just change the verb to negative.

Negative Which

Just change the verb to negative.

Negative What

Just change the verb to negative.

Negative How

Just change the verb to negative, or use the verb "avoid" with the present participle if you are asking how to not do something.

How do I not fall? or How do I avoid falling?

Caveat

There are two ways to form the negative in many questions. Look:

Why aren't you coming?
Why are you not coming?

Either use a contraction, or place not after the subject. There's no real difference, although the contraction is a little more natural-sounding.

However, this is a dangerous rule, because both ways are not always okay.

The contraction will almost always be correct, but using not will often be wrong. I would recommend always using the contraction until you are a more advanced speaker.

This caveat only applies to who/what/where/when/why/how/whose/which questions-- for yes/no questions, follow the instructions I gave above.


Can, Could, Should, and Would

You need to know how to make declarative statements using these words before you read this. Once you know, you'll understand what I mean when I say all you need to do is switch that helping verb with the subject (or with there in is there / are there questions), and it's that simple.

You can/could/should/would go to Spain.Can/could/should/would you go to Spain?

Can/Could/Should/Would (c/c/s/w) are pretty much always all used the same way.

You c/c/s/w pet my dog.C/c/s/w you pet my dog?
He should have kept his money.Should he have kept his money?
There could be a puddle.Could there be a puddle?

In the past tense, you can't use can. But you should already know that, if you know how to form declarative statements with these words.

So it could be Should he have kept his money? or Could he have kept his money? or Would he have kept his money? but not Can he have kept his money?

If you want to use who/what/when/ETC, it's not too difficult.

For who, just form a declarative and replace the subject with who:

The man could have died.Who could have died?
I would leave.Who would leave?


Substitution of phrases for nouns

[I'll come back to this one. This chiefly addresses the specifics of the OP's question.]

  • RE: Never use the present participle with the verbs to have, to like, or to know. Examples: Do you know my name? Does she have a job? Do they like cake? I don't understand what's wrong with those questions... – J.R. Jun 6 '17 at 8:57
  • @J.R. that isn't present participle. – temporary_user_name Jun 7 '17 at 15:54
7

A native speaker would likely say (while trying to keep your basic phrasing):

Do you have any idea what that thing is?

What they'd really say is:

What is that thing?

  • I am asking about purely Grammatical approach. Native speaker do not speak always grammatically. – Mistu4u Feb 7 '13 at 4:26
  • 2
    Sentence 2 is much farther from normal speech than 1. While it is possible to find a context in which 2 makes sense and is grammatical, it would be very rare. Your first step toward a more common phrasing would be to replace the thing with that thing. – Jim Feb 7 '13 at 4:33
  • But I wonder what does a pure grammar book say about the rule of transformation of such sentence into question? There must be a single rule, not multiple! – Mistu4u Feb 7 '13 at 4:36
  • 4
    I think you will be disappointed if you seek a single rule for anything about English. That sentence could be rephrased as: 1) You have no idea what that thing is, do you? 2) Do you have any idea what that thing is? 3) Have you any idea what that thing is? 4) What is that thing? Any ideas? 5) Any ideas on what that thing is? ... – Jim Feb 7 '13 at 4:39
  • 1
    @Jim -- The examples in your comment make one point very clear: the only situation in which is directly follows what in "normal" English is when the question begins with what. Otherwise, the object in question is positioned between what and is. – barbara beeton Feb 7 '13 at 17:19
3

In the sentence you used, have is not an auxiliary verb. That means the question is formed as with other verbs:

Do you have any idea of what the thing is?

If have is an auxiliary verb, as in the following sentence, then the question is formed differently.

You have never been there.

The question equivalent to that sentence is:

Have you ever been there?

1

You have no idea what the thing is.

I would ask "Don't you have any idea what the thing is?" It's much longer, but the most natural way of forming the question.

You have none = you don't have any. Then convert into "don't you have any?".

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