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Question about language grammar etymology. In French the question «Do you love?» can be written as «Aimez-vous?» in German — «Mögen Sie?», but in English — «Do you love?». Why should we use the verb «to do» in order to form the question? Why, according to the English grammar, it is not possible to build the question only with words inversion, e.g. «Love you?» like in French or German?

In other words, why English which has quite a common Latin/Roman base with French and German has such different question building form.


marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Apr 28 '14 at 19:17

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migrated from ell.stackexchange.com Apr 28 '14 at 18:53

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    Because we hold on a running vote on how we're going to do things and that's what won. ... Why is very rarely an answerable question in linguistics. – StoneyB Apr 28 '14 at 18:46
  • And... have we no questions without "do"? – oerkelens Apr 28 '14 at 18:48
  • I'm not sure if this is on-topic on ELU or not, but I don't think it is here... "Why does English do something other languages don't" doesn't seem in scope, and I think Stoney's right that it's probably not answerable. But I'm going to pass this question over to ELU and see what they think of it; maybe there's some interesting scholarly answer about the evolution of language that someone over there can come up with :) – WendiKidd Apr 28 '14 at 18:53
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    And of course "English which has quite a common Latin/Roman base with French and German" is rather inaccurate to say the least. English is a Germanic language, French is a Romanian one. Completely different word families. Note that Slavic languages form questions in a different manner from both English and French, and Japanese forms questions in a completely different manner still. Different languages are different, otherwise they'd be the same language. – RegDwigнt Apr 28 '14 at 19:25
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    Also, in French questions, inversion is unusual. The more common way of asking a question is a rising intonation. Vous aimez le foot ? – KCH Apr 28 '14 at 22:47

The simple answer, of course, is for mutual intelligibility--because you have to pick one order, and there's no particular reason to pick one over another.

If you're asking about etymology, we can venture a guess as to what caused the split between English grammar and the German and French varieties. In Middle English and Early Modern English, you could form some questions using a construction similar to the French:

Lovest thou me?

was equivalent to:

Dost thou love me?

Note the -st ending on the verbs, which indicated the second person singular. English later lost this ending and the distinct second person singular pronoun.

At the same time, the "do" construction was used in the imperative as well as for questions:

Do you love him, madam; love him well.

You could also frame the imperative as:

Love thou; love and be loved in return.

Without the -st marker to separate "do thou love him" from "dost thou love him," or "love thou" from "lovest thou," there was an ambiguity. And speakers resolved that ambiguity, as of today, by reserving "do you" for questions and "love [you]" for the imperative.

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