Intonation for Wh- Questions

Listen to this question asked in two different ways. What is different the second time?

What are you doing?
What are you doing?

The first question used falling ↘ intonation with the main stress on the word ‘doing’.
The second question used rising ↗ intonation with the main stress on the ‘wh- question word’ – ‘what’.

When and why do we change the intonation in wh- questions?

When we ask a question and we don’t know the answer, we usually:

    • use falling ↘ intonation.
    • stress the last content word.

Where are you ↘going?
Why is she ↘angry?

When we repeat a question that we already know the answer to or we want to check that we have understood properly, we often:

    • use rising ↗ intonation.
    • stress the wh- question word.

Where are you going?
Why is she angry?

These are the basics – there are other intonation patterns that can be used.


Practise these examples:

When is the ↘match?
↗When is the match?

Who’s the best ↘candidate?
↗Who’s the best candidate?

How are those ↘made?
↗How are those made?

Which building’s on ↘fire?
↗Which building’s on fire?

What was the ↘outcome?
↗What was the outcome?