Given the following sentences

Is it Thursday Today?

Does your dog smell?

Has your Mother called?

Is there a particular name given to the emphasised words at the beginning of the sentence which make it a question?

If not is there a name for the process of turning a sentence into a question?


The term describing these words is auxiliary verb.

a verb that adds functional or grammatical meaning to the clause in which it appears—for example, to express tense, aspect, modality, voice, emphasis, etc.

As for the process of turning a sentence into a question, I'm not aware of any specific term for it. I'd just say "forming an interrogative" or "converting into a question" or something similar.

That said, as deadrat and StoneyB rightly point out, what is happening here is called subject-auxiliary inversion; for example, the statement form of your first example would be "It is Thursday today.", while in question form the subject and verb are switched around so the question form begins "is it" instead.

  • No, interrogatives are who, what, where, why, etc. – deadrat Mar 10 '16 at 9:05
  • Yes, but they're also did, has, is etc. – John Clifford Mar 10 '16 at 9:06
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    While you're at it, you might note that what's going on in the questions is subject-verb inversion, i.e., in a question, the declarative sentence order of subject then verb ("Today is Thursday.") is reversed ("Is today Thursday?"). I looked to see if there's a duplicate in the repository, but a brief look didn't find a good one. So in the examples, it's not the initial words that's important; it's the order that puts that initial word first. – deadrat Mar 10 '16 at 9:13
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    If it is a real subject-verb inversion, "He is playing" should be changed to "Is playing he?", not "Is he playing"? as the verb of the sentence is "playing", not "is". Copular be could be a verb and an auxiliary verb at the same time. For example, "You are not hungry, are you?", the second are is an auxiliary verb. Therefore, I think the is in "Is it Thursday today" is an auxiliary verb. +1) – user140086 Mar 10 '16 at 9:27
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    @deadrat It's called subject-auxiliary inversion, not subject-verb inversion. Today be is generally treated as an 'auxiliary' in all uses, including 'lexical'; have is still in the process of drawing a bright line between auxiliary and lexical uses. – StoneyB Mar 10 '16 at 10:57

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