Is asking a question with intonation only grammatically correct? I had a discussion with colleague about the correct formal way to ask a question in English language. The usual, formal way:

  • "Is that your mug?"

However, someone claimed that

  • "That is your mug?"

is grammatically correct, despite the fact that it has the form of a statement, and that intonation alone can be used to indicate the question. So, is the latter grammatically correct in formal language?

  • Formal written or formal spoken? How formal are you talking - workplace formal with co-workers or with your boss? Personally, I'd say "That's your mug, right?"
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 14:53
  • Well, frankly, i thought formal is formal. But to answer your question directly: formal written language.
    – user133488
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 15:00
  • You can always be slightly less "formal" in spoken language because you have the ability to add inflection... and since it's not preplanned (unless you're giving a speech or something), it's unlikely that even native speakers are going to be grammatically perfect in spoken English. Written English is completely different - it's all flat other than what the reader "hears" when they read it, so ambiguity (like having a statement with a question mark on it) is confusing to the reader... context can help but your reader is just as likely to assume it's a typographical error.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 15:02

3 Answers 3


There is a term for the non-inverted interrogative sentence: the declarative question. It is marked with a question mark in print and by intonation in speech. From Richard Nordquist at Grammar About.com:

A [declarative question is a] yes-no question that has the form of a declarative sentence but is spoken with rising intonation at the end.

Declarative sentences are commonly used in informal speech to express surprise or [to] ask for verification. The most likely response to a declarative question is agreement or confirmation.

example [in this case showing a pugnacious attitude rather than a casual enquiry]: "You think I'm kidding you? You think it's a joke to have to walk home on a clear night with an umbrella? You think that because I'm quirky I don't hurt? You've got it backwards. I'm quirky because I hurt." (Jack Weston as Danny in The Four Seasons, 1981)

I'd say they're much more appropriate in casual conversation or when about to hit someone than in formal writing. It's probably not helpful to argue about their grammaticality; this probably varies according to the grammarian.

  • So, for the formal written language would it be grammatically correct?
    – user133488
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 16:44
  • 1
    After my saying 'It's probably not helpful to argue about their grammaticality', do you expect me to answer "Yes" or "No"? If you really think that all usages can be put into either the 'grammatical' or 'not grammatical' class, you're disagreeing with [at least] two world-famous grammarians, Quirk and Svartvik. "The problem is that sentences are not simply right or wrong, but often somewhere in between these two extremes" [and corpus data is required to estimate 'how right / wrong']. Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 18:10
  • In the formal written language, deletion of articles and pronouns is a much bigger problem than uninverted questions. Note that the intonation only goes up for yes/no questions; wh-questions do not have rising intonation at the end, and they require subject-auxiliary inversion, unless the wh-word is the subject. But for a yes/no question, it's not uncommon to just put a question mark in writing and let that represent the intonation. Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 18:31

Technically, I believe that it is grammatically correct but it is not the most formal way to ask or the best way.


There is a very common and idiomatic version of non-inverted interrogative sentence which occurs for the purpose of communicating incredulity or surprise. Usually the speaker is being ironic, sarcastic, sardonic, laconic or cynical and typically the words are spoken 'deadpan' (i.e. intonation does not rise at the end). There may well be, as well, intense eye contact. The reaction to such a question is often an outburst of emotional release (e.g. laughter or anger) -

"You just walked in without knocking?".

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