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Negative Interrogative Sentences


As their name implies, negative interrogative sentences (sometimes called interro-negative sentences) are interrogative sentences that are made negative. In addition to asking literal questions, negative interrogative sentences are often used to imply that the speaker is expecting a certain answer or for emphatic effect.

Constructing negative interrogative sentences

As with all negative sentences, we generally form the negative interrogative by adding the word not. Where it appears in the sentence depends on the type of interrogative sentence we’re using.

Yes/No questions

Questions that have either “yes” or “no” for an answer are formed using auxiliary verbs at the beginning of the sentence, as in:
  • Do you have a dollar?”
  • Are you aware of the consequences of your actions?”
  • Have you seen my wallet?”
To make them negative, we add the word not after the subject of the sentence. If not is contracted with the auxiliary verb, however, then the contraction comes before the subject.
Negative interrogative “yes/no” questions usually imply that the speaker expects the answer to be (or believes the answer should be) “yes.”
For example:
  • Don’t you have a dollar?”
  • Are you not aware of the consequences of your actions?”
  • Haven’t you seen my wallet?”

With question words

We can also use the negative with interrogative sentences that are formed with certain question words (who, what, where, and why). These kinds of questions are sometimes called “Wh-” questions, because of the common beginning of each of the question words.
To make these sentences negative, we add not either immediately after the subject of the sentence, or contract it with the linking or auxiliary verb. Unlike the negative form of “yes/no” questions, the negative form of question word sentences can either be literal or be used for emphasis.

Literal questions

The negative interrogative is often used literally for sentences with question words.
For example:
  • “It seems like just about everyone is signed up for the trip. Who isn’t coming?”
  • Why haven’t we left yet?”
  • “Your keys must be somewhere. Where have we not looked?”
In each of these sentences, the speaker is asking a question that requires a literal response.

Emphatic responses

We can also use the negative interrogative with these question words for emphasis, usually in response to another question. In this case, not is almost exclusively contracted with the auxiliary verb, as in:
  • Person A: “Who’s coming to the party tomorrow night?”
  • Person B: “Who isn’t coming?” (It seems like everyone will be coming.)
  • Person A: “Where did you travel while you were in Europe this summer?”
  • Person B: “Oh man, where didn’t I go?” (The speaker went to a lot of places in Europe.)
This type of question is not only used in response to other questions though—it can stand on its own as a rhetorical question. For example:
  • Person A: “My uncle also said we could use his cabin for the week if we wanted. He’ll also pay for our food while we’re up there.”
  • Person B: “Wow, why wouldn’t we go there for spring break?” (There doesn’t appear to be any reason not to go there.)
  • Person A: “They just outlawed skateboarding in public in this town.”
  • Person B: “Sheesh, what isn’t illegal here anymore?” (It seems like everything is against the law now.)

1. What can negative interrogative sentences be used for?

2. Negative interrogative sentences imply that the speaker expects a certain answer with what type of question?

3. What is the most likely purpose of the following negative interrogative sentence?
“Why wasn’t I informed of this meeting earlier?”

4. Which of the following is contracted with the word not in negative interrogative sentences?

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