As you might have already guessed, yes/no questions are questions that elicit a “yes” or “no” response. Listen to the following yes/no question and decide if it has a rising or falling intonation:
In most cases, yes/no questions have rising intonation. Practice listening to and repeating the following yes/no questions:
- Are you free after five?
- Should we buy it now?
- Did Alice bring the assignment?
- Is there no other way?
- Will it rain this weekend?
One notable exception to common yes/no questions is the rhetorical question, which is a type of question used to make a point instead of eliciting an answer. Rhetorical questions can have rising or falling intonation. Listen to the following short dialogue, in which Salma uses a rhetorical question to make a point.
Ivan: The cheeseburger with bacon looks pretty good to me.
Salma: Yes, but is it good for you?
Ivan: I see your point.
Salma’s rhetorical question does not necessarily need a response because it is clear from the context that Salma does not believe bacon cheeseburgers are healthy. The pitch falls after the focus word “good” (for a review of focus words, check out the Thought Groups section).
Look at the following phrases and then choose the correct rhetorical question that follows each phrase. After you finish completing each mini-dialogue, practice pronouncing the rhetorical questions with falling pitch.
- If we leave now, we can get there early.
- Judith is taking a budget airline to get to Thailand.
- I got an A, and we didn’t even have to take any tests.
- Sorry, I forgot to bring your money again.
- Are you kidding me? (I’m annoyed at you.)
- That’s great. Is she going to enjoy the flight, though? (Budget airlines aren’t comfortable.)
- Yes, but who likes standing around before the doors open? (It’s not fun waiting for the doors to open.)
- Could this course be any easier? (This is an easy course.)
What do you do now?
First, pay attention to the pitch range of yes/no questions that you hear in the real world. Practice saying them out loud and recording them with your mobile device. Remember: It’s better to start with exaggerated intonation so that you become accustomed to the wide range of English intonation.
Second, come see a speech consultant to practice yes/no questions. For example, you may suggest playing a game where you both have a dialogue using only yes/no questions. Similarly, you can play “Twenty Questions,” a game in which the speech consultant thinks of an object, and you must guess what it is by asking yes/no questions. Both of these games are great for monitoring your intonation for yes/no questions.