Short Form Yes, No Questions

Reading audio

02 May, 2019

Hello! Do you have a minute?

...because I want to tell you something about yes/no questions.

As you may know, a yes/no question is a question in which the expected answer is either "yes" or "no." I just used one such question when I asked, "Do you have a minute?"

But in the real world, native English speakers might not always form questions fully when they speak to you. Instead, they might say something like, "You have a minute?" or even "Got a minute?"

Short questions like these are common in informal situations, especially in spoken English.

For example, "Got a Minute?" has been used as a name for website columns and radio shows on issues from health to career choices to saving money. In addition, "Got a Minute" was the name of a word game in the 1970s.

We see and hear shortened questions everywhere – such as in music, movies and advertisements.

A well-known example is the "Got Milk?" advertising campaign, which was launched in the 1990s and ran for 20 years. In the ad, famous actors, fashion models and musicians promoted the drinking of milk.

Today, I will show you how to shorten yes/no questions. Ready? Good -- because you just heard another example. And it was probably easy to guess the meaning is: Are you ready?

Forming yes/no questions

On an earlier program, we talked about how to form standard yes/no questions. Knowing this first will help you understand how to shorten them. So here's a quick refresher:

We form most yes/no questions this way:

Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Main Verb

For example: Do you have a minute?

Here, the word "do" is the auxiliary verb, followed by the subject "you" and the main verb "have."

Auxiliary verbs are often called "helping verbs." We use them with main verbs to do things like help form questions and verb tenses.

Most standard yes/no questions begin with "do," "be" or "have."

But in other yes/no questions, "be" is the main verb and there is no auxiliary. We form them like this:

Be + Subject

For example: Are you ready?

Here, "be" is the main verb, followed by the subject "you."

When we shorten yes/no questions, we usually do it in one of two ways:

  • drop the auxiliary / be (or)
  • drop the auxiliary / be and the subject.

Drop Auxiliary

Let's first talk about dropping the auxiliary verb.

In informal situations, it is often unnecessary to use the auxiliary verbs "do," "be" or "have" at the start of yes/no questions.

Listen to this example:

We've been walking for an hour.
Oh. You getting tired?
Yes, and my feet hurt.

Here, the auxiliary "be" was dropped from the start of the question "You getting tired?" The standard question would be "Are you getting tired?"

Here is another example:

The internet is not working.
The cable company call yet? A crew is supposed to be here by 3 this afternoon.
No, I haven't heard the phone.

Here, the auxiliary verb "do" was dropped from the start of the question, "The cable company call yet?" The standard question would be, "Did the cable company call yet?"

Drop Auxiliary & Subject

We can make even shorter yes/no questions by dropping both the auxiliary verb and the subject. However, we can only drop the subject when the subject is "you."

Listen to another version of the earlier conversation, this time without the auxiliary verb or subject "you":

We've been walking for an hour.
Oh. Getting tired?
Yes, and my feet hurt.

Let me now return to something I talked about at the start of the program. You remember the questions "Got milk?" and "Got a minute?" They both start yes/no questions with the word "Got." Such questions come from this standard form:

Do + you + have...

To shorten questions that begin with the words "Do you have...?" we often drop the auxiliary verb "do" and the subject "you." But we take a third step: We change the main verb "have" to "got."

So, you get questions like, "Got a pen?," Got the time?" and the ones you heard earlier: "Got a minute?" "Got Milk?"

Drop Be

OK, let's now move to the verb "be."

Earlier, I told you that sometimes "be" in yes/no questions acts as the main verb, not an auxiliary. In questions where the main verb is "be" and it is present tense, we can often drop the "be" verb.

In this next exchange, the main verb "be" has been dropped from the question:

My presentation is tomorrow.
You nervous?
No, I feel great!

Again, the main verb "be" was dropped. The standard question would be, "Are you nervous?"

Drop Be & Subject

And, finally, we will look at the shortest possible form: one-word yes/no questions. We usually make them from a specific three-word structure:

Are + you + adjective

Two examples are the questions "Are you ready?" and "Are you nervous?" To shorten questions like these, we drop "be" and the subject "you."

Here's the last exchange again, this time with both "be" and the subject "you" dropped:

My presentation is tomorrow.
No, I feel great!

Final thoughts

By now, you might be wondering: What if the yes/no question begins with another auxiliary verb, like "will" or "would," or a modal auxiliary, like "should" or "might"? These verbs express tenses or meanings that are lost when they are removed. So avoid shortening such questions.

Well, it looks like I needed more than a minute of your time. Got another minute? If so, try the practice on our website:!

I'm Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.



Now, you try it!

Give the full standard question form for these shortened yes/no questions:

  1. Need more time?
  2. Going to class now?
  3. Got any ideas?
  4. You been there before?
  5. Hungry?
  6. Want to come with us?

Next, shorten these standard yes/no questions by dropping the auxiliary or the verb "be." For some, you can also drop the subject.

  1. Have you ever been to D.C.?
  2. Are you coming with us?
  3. Does she speak Spanish?
  4. Did you see the movie?
  5. Are you finished?
  6. Has the class ended yet?


Words in This Story

informaladj. not suited for serious or official speech and writing

columnn. an article that appears regularly and that is written by a specific writer or deals with a specific subject

promotev. to make people aware of something, such as a new product, through advertising

guessv. to give an answer about something when you do not know much or anything about it

standardadj. accepted and used by most of the educated speakers and writers of a language

tensen. a form of a verb that is used to show when an action happened

conversationn. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people

cablen. the wiring system that provides internet access, phone services and television channels

specificadj. special or particular

modaln. a verb that is usually used with another verb to express possibility, necessity, and permission