Could someone help me to understand the difference between these two sentences.

  • When did you go there?
  • When you went there?

What is the correct way of using these forms?

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Hellion, Nicole, Misti, Mari-Lou A Apr 17 '15 at 17:27

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it should be asked on English Language Learners – FumbleFingers Apr 13 '15 at 13:46
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    I think it should be kept open and pinned as an example of a question you had better be able to answer if you post here. – John Lawler Apr 13 '15 at 14:22

The question is about turning statements into questions. There are lots of ways, and different kinds of resulting questions. It makes the most sense to me if it's looked at on two levels:

1. Yes/No Questions -- The lower level, with binary possibilities only. Several offshoots,
    including Neg-swap tags (He saw her, didn't he? / He didn't see her, did he?).
    Some features (starting with a sentence in the present or past tense):
    • Y/N questions normally have subject-auxiliary inversion (He is going => Is he going?)
    • Inverted Y/N questions take Do-Support if there's no auxiliary (He went => Did he go?)
    • Y/N questions have rising intonation at the end (symbolized by a question mark in writing)

So the rule for forming a Y/N question is:

  • If there isn't an auxiliary verb, insert do and change the main verb to an infinitive form.
  • Move the auxiliary verb in front of the subject.
  • Add question intonation at the end.

(By the way, this is just a description of how sentences are arranged, and related to one another.
It doesn't represent -- isn't intended to represent -- what speakers actually do when they talk.)

2. Wh- Questions -- The higher level, with specified information. It uses the Y/N rule above.
    Several offshoots, including In Situ questions, as @Auraucaria points out.
    Some features (starting with a sentence in the present or past tense):
    • Wh-questions always contain a Wh-word specifying the kind of information requested
      - who, what, which, when, where, why, how (plus whether, in embedded Y/N-questions;
        whence and whither are obsolete forms of where, as are whereof, wherewith, etc.)
    • If the Wh-word is the subject, stop. The In Situ question is a correctly-formed Wh-question.
    • Otherwise, form a Yes/No question (using the rule in part 1) from the In Situ question.
      (including Do-Support, as needed)
    • Then move the Wh-word to the beginning of the question, before the fronted auxiliary verb.

So the rule for a Wh-question is

  • Insert the Wh-word for the unknown information (He saw X => He saw who)
  • If the Wh-word is the subject, Stop (add a question mark if writing).
  • Otherwise, make a Y/N question, using the rule in part 1 (He saw who => Did he see who)
  • And move the Wh-word to the front (Did he see who => Who did he see?)
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    A comprehensive answer to an important question. I'd just add a very minor addendum that if the wh- word is any part of a subject phrase, not necessarily the entire subject, we don't S-A don't invert. So for example with questions beginning "Which pen is the ..." and so forth. – Araucaria Apr 13 '15 at 21:41
  • Do you think that maybe we apply the S-A rule and then subsequently move the subject NP to the front when the wh- word is part of the subject? (So it looks the same but has had both rules applied) – Araucaria Oct 26 '16 at 13:22
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    Who knows? Everybody has their own grammar, and they're different in details, even if they produce output that works. No doubt some people actually do follow these rules as stated, and others have a completely different approach. That's why I added the parenthetical comment after stating Rule 1 above. – John Lawler Oct 26 '16 at 14:04

You can make an IN SITU question by making a normal sentence and replacing the information you don't know with a wh- word:

  1. You're meeting who?
  2. You can see what?
  3. You went there when?

If you want to make a normal question, you need to move the wh- word to the beginning of the sentence. In this situation, you will need to use subject-auxiliary inversion. The subject and auxiliary will change places after the question word:

  • Who are you meeting?
  • What can you see?

In example (3), the in situ question has no auxiliary verb: You went where?. We cannot use went as an auxiliary verb. We need a proper auxiliary. In this situation, we need to use the auxiliary verb DO:

  • When you went there? (wrong)
  • When did you go there?

Note: Notice, though, that if the wh- word is already at the front in the in situ question, we do not need to use subject auxiliary inversion:

  • Who went there?
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    However, "When you went there?" can be a confirmatory question. "The Pope's in Rome. I saw him recently." "When you went there?" (A bit contrived, but examples often are) – Andrew Leach Apr 13 '15 at 13:18
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    @AndrewLeach: And note that "When you went there?" in that bit-contrived example would be pronounced with an intonation completely different from the intonation it would get if it were intended as a question (by a non-native speaker, probly; native speakers don't normally emit questions like this). – John Lawler Apr 13 '15 at 14:27
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    @JohnLawler That (with your other comment) is precisely the reason I edited the question and left it open. – Andrew Leach Apr 13 '15 at 14:44
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    @Andrew: OK, fair enough. My answer's here, too; I didn't try to be complete, only correct and fairly clear. There are many many more facts and varieties to add to this information about English questions. Tag questions are fun, and threat questions (So, you're a Republican, are you?), multiple Wh-questions (Who did what to whom?), Question intonation alone (Eighteen under par??? You're kidding), not to mention response variables like "Uh-huh" and "Uh-uh" and "Mm-hmm". There's a vast literature on questions, and plenty of syntax. But strange logic; questions can't be true or false. – John Lawler Apr 13 '15 at 16:46

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