Lesson 39 - Open Questions

In the last article we started looking at the difference between 'closed' and 'open questions' and how to form them. The explanation for this takes a bit of time, but it is worth making the effort because it gives us the key to asking questions properly in Spanish and therefore getting the replies we are looking for!

Last month we said that a 'closed question' is one that calls for a 'yes' or 'no' answer.

"Do you live in Spain?" is a 'closed question', as the initial response is 'yes' or 'no'. Of course in reality we would rarely answer with just one word as this would sound too abrupt. We would probably say "Yes, I do actually," or "No, I don't unfortunately", or we would give more information: "Well yes I do most of the time, but we do visit family in the UK a couple of times a year". However, these lengthier responses do not alter the fact that the original question is a 'closed' one.

To make a 'closed question' in Spanish, all we have to do is make an affirmative statement sound like a question with our voice. Here is the statement:
"You live in Spain."
"Vives en España."

Now to make it a question:
"Do you live in Spain?"
"¿Vives en España?"

There is no change in the order of the words and neither do we include any equivalent of the word 'do'. As you can see, when writing the question we also add an upside down question mark at the front the sentence.

Here is a longer 'closed question' which you will see adopts exactly the same principle:
"Does your brother's wife play tennis on Saturdays?"
To get to this in Spanish we first have to make it into a statement: "Your brother's wife plays tennis on Saturdays", then we translate the statement making the question with our voice:
"¿La mujer de tu hermano juega al tenis los sábados?"

So, what then are 'open questions' and how to do they work? An 'open question' requires a response that consists of more information than just "yes" or "no". Also, an 'open question' begins with what we call a 'question word'. An easy example is: "Where do you live?" We cannot correctly answer "yes" or "no" to this; we are obliged by the question to name a location. Although it may sound obvious, it is also important to note the fact that the response is prompted by the question word itself. In other words – 'Where' calls for the name of a place, 'When' asks for a time, 'Who' asks for a person, 'Why' asks for a reason and so on.

This is how we make an 'open question' in Spanish. We start with the question word, or small group of words which create the question. Often this is one word: 'Dónde', 'Cuándo', 'Quién', but it can be two: 'Por qué', 'De dónde' and can also include other ideas:
¿Cuántos hijos?
How many children?

¿De qué color?
What colour?

The next item in the 'open question' is the verb, giving us:
¿Dónde vives?
Where do you live?

¿Cuántos hijos tienes?
How many children have you got?

¿Por qué estás corriendo?
Why are you running?

So far we have looked at examples that are addressing questions to 'you'; that is questions in the second person. Although the structure might seem very easy, we need to keep it in mind to move on to asking questions in the third person, about 'he' or 'she'. We will look at that next month and hopefully I'll also have enough room for some more Spanish to translate.

See you then!

Jane Cronin's "Step by Step Spanish" articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane's "Step by Step Internet Spanish" course.