When I learned English, my teachers told me that all questions must have an auxiliary verb at the beginning, just like Are you mad? or Is she playing? do.

But when watching some movies or talking with people who speak English, they just ask using things like You mad? and She’s playing?

Of course, the kind of intonation let me know they are asking a question, but why this happen?

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    There is a difference between what is acceptable in speech and what is grammatical in written English. Your examples are colloquialisms. Read more about it here.
    – Centaurus
    Sep 18, 2014 at 22:41
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    See John Lawler's answer on Conversational Deletion Sep 18, 2014 at 23:16
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    Your teacher made a generalization and all language teachers do when they are teaching to beginners. It's all very well for the likes of Colin Fine to sneer, but until you find yourself in the situation of teaching a foreign language to a group of children or adults who know absolutely nothing about English, you are constrained to present the grammar in sizeable chunks. If your teacher is newly-trained, it's a forgivable mistake, if he or she is an experienced one, then it is a foolish one.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 19, 2014 at 5:19
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    Your teacher seems to be talking about closed interrogatives. There are also open interrogatives, such as "Who shot the judge?" -- in that last example, notice that there is no auxiliary verb involved at all..
    – F.E.
    Sep 20, 2014 at 19:01

4 Answers 4


They do start with an auxiliary verb, but since it's predictable, it's often omitted.

These are examples of what's called Conversational Deletion in the literature.
The link has references and further examples.

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    Note that this goes only for the first of the two examples. The second example in the question is just a straightforward, non-inverted statement posed as a question through intonation alone, which is a different beast (cf. Araucaria’s answer). Sep 20, 2014 at 8:25
  • I may have stolen your Christmas pudding, but it's still there really. Merely deleted. Dec 31, 2015 at 11:00

I can think of several valid examples of questions that neither start with an auxiliary verb, nor have been pruned through conversational deletion:

Come again? [Idiomatic question construction meaning "Please repeat whatever it was you just said", or sometimes merely expressing disbelief]

In what way? [Seeking some kind of clarification]

By when? [Seeking clarification of a deadline or other time constraint]

Really? [Seeking confirmation of a purported fact]

Meaning what? [Seeking clarification]

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    Other examples: "How do you do?", "What time is it?", "Who are you?"...
    – dotvav
    Sep 19, 2014 at 12:05
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    @dotvav: In Wh-questions, the Wh-word comes first, and then the auxiliary verb. Every Wh-question starts by making a yes/no question (with auxiliary inversion), and then the Wh-word is moved to the front. The OQ was about yes/no questions, though it didn't say so. The examples you present above are Wh-questions, and they all have a Wh-word first, and then an auxiliary verb. Sep 19, 2014 at 16:05
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    As for the examples in the answer, Come again? is short for Would you come again?, where come refers to the previous utterance. It's an idiom for "repeat", and it must be uses as a question, with question intonation: *She came again but I still couldn't understand her. The others are basically optional constituents of a previous utterance that can be inquired about; since the utterance is in the context, its constituents can be deleted ad lib. Q: What kind of ice cream is this? A: I believe durian. The answer is ungrammatical out of context. And this isnt limited to questions. Sep 19, 2014 at 16:16
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    @JohnLawler - Your points are not convincing. I have never heard "Would you come again?" being used in the same manner as "Come again?" in this context; I could find no such instances of it online either. The remainder of your answer, "The others are basically optional constituents [...]" is not directly relevant as a refutation of the assertion that "all questions must have an auxiliary verb at the beginning". Your argument amounts to special pleading.
    – Erik Kowal
    Sep 19, 2014 at 21:10
  • I don't care whether it's refuted or not; I'm not arguing here. Believe what you please, please; it's your language. Sep 20, 2014 at 18:32

Because real English speakers speak real English, and didn't learn it from your teachers.

Forms like You hungry? and She coming? are common in speech, but are very informal, and would not be found in most written contexts.


Your interesting question has two completely different examples.

  1. You mad?
  2. She's coming?

The first is a case of Conversational Deletion as described in John Lawler's answer here. This is when we miss out pronouns, auxiliaries and other grammatical words like that in informal speech and writing. It's sometimes called Diary Drop because it often happens in diaries. Many people have studied it in the diaries of famous authors like Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill.

The second example though is NOT a case of conversational deletion. It is what is sometimes referred to as an Intonation Question. This is when the grammar does not show that the sentence is a question. The structure is the same as it would be for a declarative sentence. We therefore use intonation to show that we are making a question. Again, we normally only do this in informal speech, and not very often. Learners of English overuse this if their first language only uses intonation and not grammar to mark interrogatives.

It is easy to show that there is no conversational deletion here:

  • She (subject), is (auxiliary) coming (lexical verb)?

COME is an intransitive verb so there is no direct object here. All the parts of the sentence are present and correct. Nothing has been deleted. You can also see that the form of the question is exactly the same as the affirmative sentence: She is coming.

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    @Marilou Yes, I know, I know! :) The original Araucaria was a famous cryptic crossword setter from the Guardian with a cult following. He wrote amazing crosswords for almost 50 years. His puzzles were extremely witty and sometimes a bit political (leftish). Araucaria is a pun because it's the Latin name for Monkey Puzzle Tree. For me, that's what Linguistics is, a puzzle about a certain group of primates. I'm hoping to use that as my official academic pseudonym ;). Here's a link about the original Auracaria: John Graham/Araucaria Sep 24, 2014 at 10:59

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