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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: May 2013

12 - Interrogative constructions


We can distinguish four major clause types in English: declaratives, interrogatives, imperatives, and exclamatives. We identify them primarily on the basis of their word order, as I will show below. The focus of this chapter lies on interrogatives, but it will be useful to introduce some background information on clause types and their associated functions. This will be done in Section 12.1. Interrogatives in varieties of English primarily differ from the corresponding standard specimens in terms of word order, both in main and embedded interrogative clauses. We will investigate these differences in Section 12.2. A cross-linguistic comparison of interrogatives that places standard and vernacular constructions of English in this domain into a larger picture will round off this chapter (Section 12.3).


Interrogative clauses as a grammatical phenomenon belong to the system of sentence types. We understand sentence types as the systematic pairing of the formal properties of a clause with some illocutionary function (see König and Siemund 2007). Let us first of all try to make clear what this means.

Illocutionary force and sentence types

In uttering a sentence, speakers can perform various communicative acts, such as making a statement, asking a question, issuing a command, or expressing surprise about an unexpected state of affairs. They may also want to apologise, promise something, or accuse or criticise somebody. There is scarcely a limit to the set of imaginable communicative acts, and speakers are likely to find extremely nuanced ways to express them.

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Further reading
Croft, William. 1994. Speech act classification, language typology and cognition. In Tsohatzidis, Savas L. (ed.), Foundations of Speech Act Theory: Philosophical and Linguistic Perspectives, 460–77. London: Routledge.
Filppula, Markku. 2000. Inversion in embedded questions in some regional varieties of English. In Bermúdez-Otero, Ricardo, Denison, David, Hogg, Richard M., and McCully, Chris B. (eds.), Generative Theory and Corpus Studies: A Dialogue from 10 ICEHL, 439–53. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Hilbert, Michaela. 2008. Interrogative inversion in non-standard varieties of English. In Siemund, Peter and Kintana, Noemi (eds.), Language Contact and Contact Languages, 261–92. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Hilbert, Michaela. 2011. Interrogative inversion as a learner phenomenon in English contact varieties: A case of Angloversals? In Mukherjee, Joybrato and Hundt, Marianne (eds.), Exploring Second-Language Varieties of English and Learner Englishes: Bridging a Paradigm Gap, 126–44. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1994. The contrast between interrogatives and questions. Journal of Linguistics 30. 411–439.
Sadock, Jerrold M. and Zwicky, Arnold M.. 1985. Speech act distinctions in syntax. In Shopen, Timothy (ed.), Language Typology and Syntactic Description, volume I: Clause Structure, 155–96. Cambridge University Press.
Sand, Andrea and Kolbe, Daniela. 2010. Embedded inversion worldwide. Linguaculture 2(1). 25–42.