Ok so here is the example:

Are you a student? - You just want to ask if the person is a student.

You're a student? - You are surprised, because you didn't think he is a student.

Aren't you a student? - You are surprised, because you thought he is a student.

The three sentences mean the same if written on paper? But when they are pronounced, they expected answer is different, right? Is there a rule for pronouncing it? I'm asking because a friend is learning English and I can't explain it to him clearly. He says in his language, there is no difference, on how you pronounce those questions, they are all the same.

I would be glad, if someone can help us.

  • 1
    Why do you say they mean the same thing when written on paper? They mean the same thing on paper as they do when they are spoken. (There can be several shades of meaning when they're spoken: "You're a student?" means you are surprised because you didn't think he was a student, and "You're a student?" means you are surprised because you thought he was something else.) Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 19:59
  • They are pronounced the same, but the intonation can be very different.
    – ab2
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 1:01
  • Peter is right, they mean the same written down as they do said out loud. Your definitions are all correct. Explain it to your friend exactly like that.
    – Abs
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 16:52

1 Answer 1


The second "question" in your list is not used as a stand-alone question in English. Unlike some other languages, English has a special sentence structure for questions that is different from declarations, with the inversion of subject and auxiliary verb, as in "are you" or "do you" (your first and third questions have this structure).

The non-inverted order can still be used in what is called echo questions, where you respond to a statement and question it:

  • A: I am a student.
  • B: You are a student?
  • A: Yes I am.

But when asking a stand-alone question you should use the inverted order, unless you are being terse and informal.

In speech, questions are often asked with some raising the pitch of your voice towards the end. This holds equally for all three cases above. However, the syntax of questions in English is distinct so they can be understood as questions even when pronounced without raising the pitch, in fact with any pitch-play. This would not even sound unnatural.

Although "You're a student" is a declarative sentence, pronouncing it with raised pitch (like a question) suggests a surprise (imagine also raising your eyebrows); thus the question mark when you write it down. Again, it is not the form you should use in stand-alone questions.

  • What do you mean by "the "asker" should not expect an answer"? If I said "You're a student?" I would expect to get an answer. It's still a question.
    – sumelic
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 13:27
  • @sumelic You may get a response, like you may get to any declarative statement, but if you expect an answer you should ask a question. Yes/no questions in English are formed by either placing the auxiliary verb before the subject, as in "are you a student?", or by appending a tag to a declaration, such as "you aren't a student, are you?". If you claim "you're a student?" is a syntactically correct question in English, I respectfully disagree. Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 13:53
  • It is a question, and it is syntactically correct, so yes: it is a syntactically correct question. The fact that the syntax is the same as for a declarative statement doesn't make it a declarative statement. A response is not optional; it is expected.
    – sumelic
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 15:23
  • If there's some technical definition of "question" that excludes questions like this, please reference it. I have never seen the word defined this way.
    – sumelic
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 15:47
  • here is one source that lists the various forms of questions in English. The structure you suggest to be a question in English is not listed among them. Do you have a reference to the contrary? Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 16:02

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