Helping You Understand English

Short Simple Natural Questions

Who what when where why how written on separate Polaroid frames with wooden fence background and a question symbol

Short Simple Natural Questions (SSNQs)

Short simple natural questions are used most often as follow-up questions. We can shorten longer sentences based on what was said before we ask a question or when the context is very clear.

In addition to reactions, follow-up questions are an important part of a conversation in English. What I’m about to share with you is something that is used a lot in spoken English. However, it is not taught in traditional language classrooms. I am going to teach you real English as it is used every day by fluent speakers.

“How can I make a perfect sentence?”

Many students ask this question. They want to speak in perfect sentences. They have even more difficulty with grammar when asking questions.

There’s good news!

We don’t usually speak in perfect or complete sentences!

We have many shortcuts (ways to save time and effort) that you can learn. Learning these shortcuts makes speaking English easier. It takes time and practice to use some of them, but many can be learned quickly. In fact, you probably already know some of them!

“I want to speak real English.”

This is something I often hear. It is one reason I began this website. There is SO MUCH information I want to share with you about how to speak English naturally. 

To begin, let’s look at an example of a conversation 3 ways: first with complete sentences, then with the questions and answers shortened, and finally with reductions, which is how the conversation actually sounds when spoken. Notice the differences.

Complete sentences (not the way people really speak)

Elsa: What did you do this weekend?

Ollie: I went to a movie.

Elsa: Oh, yeah? What movie did you see?

Ollie: I saw Venom.

Elsa: Cool! I love that movie!

Shortened sentences (the way people really speak)

Elsa: What did you do this weekend?

Ollie: Went to a movie.

Elsa: Oh, yeah? What movie?

Ollie: Venom.

Elsa: Cool! I love that movie!

The way it sounds when spoken (with reductions)

Elsa: Wuhdja do this weekend?

Ollie: Wen-to-uh movie.

Elsa: Oh, yeah? What movie?

Ollie: Venom.

Elsa: Cool! I love that movie!

The conversation above introduced one SSNQ:

What ___________?

The ____________ can be completed in many ways, for example:

  • What game?
  • What restaurant?
  • What country?

*What is sometimes substituted with Which. There is a grammatical difference, but in some cases, there is little difference. Grammatically, what is used when there is an unlimited number of choices, and which is used when the choices are more limited. For those of you who would like to know more about the difference and get some practice, I recommend watching Rebecca’s engVid explanation.

Other Short Simple Natural Questions

Who

  • Who with? or  With who? (whom is disappearing – most people say who)
  • To who? (This is used to ask who someone is getting married to.)
  • From who? (This can be used to ask who a gift or message was from.)
  • Who _________________? (For example: Who went? Who came? Who did it? Who was there?)
  • Who’s next? (You can use this when you are taking turns doing something. It uses the contraction Who’s in place of Who is.)

What

  • What kind? (Can be used to ask about movie genres, food, books, brands, music, structures, etc.)
  • Like what? (Used to ask for examples. Can be used to ask about food, books, activities, sports, music, problems, likes, etc.)
  • About what? = What was _________ about? (Used to ask about topics: conversation, lectures, etc.)
  • What for? = For what? = What did you go there for?
  • Whudja get? = What did you get? (Used to ask what grade someone received, what gift or award someone received, or what someone bought.) *Note Whudja shows the relaxed pronunciation of What did you, and it not usually written.
  • Which ____________? (for more specific options)
  • What ____________? (for more general options)
  • What else? (Used to ask for additional examples.)
  • What happened? (A go-to question when someone had a problem or you want to know the result or the cause of something.)
  • What’s wrong? (Not a follow-up question, but a good SSNQ if someone has a problem or seems upset.)
  • What’s the matter? (Also not a follow-up question. Same meaning as What’s wrong?)
  • With what? = What do you need my help with? (Can be used when someone says, “I need your help.”)
  • Doing what? = What are/were you doing? (Can be used when someone says, “I’m busy right now.” or “I was really busy yesterday.”)
  • What then? = What are you going to do then? or What will you do then?

When

  • When?
  • Since when?
  • When is it?
  • When was it?
  • When was this? = When did it happen/occur/take place?

Where

  • Where?
  • Where (at) in ______________? (This is used to ask about a more specific location in a country, city, or area of a city.)
  • Where at?
    • We can use Where at? as an SSNQ to statements like:
      • I’m going to a movie tonight.
      • I’m going shopping.
      • I went shopping.
      • I’m meeting my friend.
      • BTS is having a concert.
      • I think I lost my cell phone.
  • Where to? (Where to? is a shortened form of Where are you going? or Where do you want to go?)
    • We can use Where to? as an SSNQ to statements like:
      • I’m going on vacation.
      • I’m going out.
  • From where?
    • We can use From where? as an SSNQ to statements like:
      • It took me 2 hours to get here.
  • Where is it?
  • Where was it?
  • Where is this?
  • Where was this?

Why

  • Why?
  • Why not? (Used for negative statements like: I didn’t do my homework.)
  • Why _________? (Can be used to ask about choices people make.)
    • We can use it as an SSNQ to statements like:
      • I’m going to Japan. – Why Japan?
      • I decided to study Chinese. – Why Chinese?
      • If I could live anywhere in the world, I’d live in New Zealand. – Why New Zealand?
  • Why is that? (Used to ask why someone feels or thinks something.)
    • We can use it as an SSNQ to statements like:
      • I don’t like staying home.
      • I am having a bad day.
      • I think he is going to quit.
  • Why was that?
  • How come? = What is the reason/excuse?

Example:
A: He isn’t here.
B: How come?

*How come? = How come he isn’t here? = Why isn’t he here?

  • What for? = For what reason? = What is the reason?

Example:
A: I’m studying English.
B: Really? What for?

*What for? = For what reason are you studying English? = Why are you studying English? = What are you studying English for?

How?

  • How? (Used to ask about the way or manner in which something is done: a solution to a problem.)
  • How so? = In what way?
    • We can use How so? as an SSNQ to statements like:
      • A is a lot like B.
      • A is similar to B.
      • A can be really annoying.
      • A is really difficult.
  • How many? (Use to ask about quantities of things: people, times, classes, etc.)
  • How often…? (Used to ask about frequency: exercise, work, vacation, sports and other activities.)
  • How much? (Mainly used to ask about money and cost.)
  • How long…? (Used to ask about duration: time spend traveling, living, working, playing something, etc.)
  • For how long? (Used to ask about length of time.)
  • How far…? (Used to ask about distance.)
  • How was it? (Used to ask about the condition or quality of things: movies, books, lectures, vacations, parties, events, concerts, etc.)

The difference between whyhow and how so can be confusing. It depends on the situation. I explain in more detail on Quora.

The QUASM Formula

The QUASM formula will help you form complete (long, not short and simple) questions. If you are interested in learning this pattern, check out An Easy Way to Form (Almost) Any Question In English. Multiple examples are provided to help you learn the pattern quickly and easily.

Recommended Speaking Courses

I only recommend products that I trust and think have value for your learning.

For more natural conversations between native speakers, as well as lots of natural expressions, I recommend Espresso English’s speaking courses. Level 2 is for upper-intermediate and advanced students. You can check out a free sample here.

If level 2 is too difficult, you might prefer Level 1, which includes English for daily life, practical English, social English, and more. You can check out a free sample here.

Improve your English with a native teacher on italki today!

Never stop learning!
~ Trey