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Conversational Language (#4), by Dennis Oliver


Conversational Language (#4):
One-Word Questions


Written language and conversational language are often
quite different. In fact, what's normal, common, and
acceptable in spoken language is often considered to be
unacceptable in written language. This is one of several
Hints on some of the differences.


One-Word Questions


In written language, questions are seldom single words,
but in conversational language, one-word questions are
common. Information ("Wh-") questions are often
reduced to single words in conversation.


A: Jim's having a party.
B: When? (When is Jim having a party?)

A: Someone left a message for you
B: Who? (Who left a message for me?)

A: Bill's girlfriend isn't speaking to him.
B: Why? (Why isn't Bill's girlfriend speaking to him?)

A: Something really nice happened yesterday.
B: What? (What really nice thing happened yesterday?)

A: There was a terrible earthquake yesterday!
B: Where? (Where was the terrible earthquake yesterday?)

A: I finally solved that difficult problem!
B: How? (How did you solve that difficult problem?)



Sometimes other words need to be added to the Wh-word
in order to make the question clearly understood.


A: You'll be expected to work late.
B: How often? (How often will I be expected to work late?)

A: One of our friends just got married.
B: Which one? (Which one of our friends just got married?)

A: Bob just bought a car.
B: What kind? (What kind of car did he buy?)

A: There were a lot of people at the concert.
B: How many? (How many people were at the concert?)



Sometimes the Wh-word is also stressed--if the question
involves getting more detail about a modifier.


A: The concert tickets were kind of expensive.
B: Howexpensive?

(Exactly how expensive were they?
Slightly expensive? Somewhat expensive?
Very expensive? Outrageously expensive?)

A: I usually get up pretty early.
B: Howearly?

(Exactly how early do you get up?
At 6:00 AM? 5:00 AM? 4:00 AM?)

A: Ibrahim took the TOEFL several times before he
got the score that he needed.

B: How many (times)?

(Exactly how many times did he take
the TOEFL before he got the score that
he needed? Three? Four? Ten?)

A: You'll need more time for tomorrow's homework.
B: How much(more time)?

(Exactly how much more time will
I need? 15 minutes? A half hour?
Several hours?)




Special Note:

One-word questions are used only when the omitted words
in the question are clearly understood--that is, when they
form a clear connection to what another person has just said.
If a conversation begins with a one-word question, the
question will not (of course) be understood.

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