Contrastive ananlysis of question in english and vietnamese

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Running head: QUESTIONS



Nguyễn Thị Thu Thủy

University of Pedagogy

English Department



Mr Nguyễn Ngọc Vũ

December 30, 2010

In language teaching and learning questions play a very important role because it’s highly used to ask for information or to begin a conversation. It’s not simple as we thought, however, it’s more complicated and makes learners a lot of troubles when using. That’s because of the differences between the two languages, and the influences of learners’ mother tongue. Thus, I do this research in order to find out the similarities and differences between the two languages so that learners can understand more and use it successfully.

Question is a sentence, phrase or word that asks for information (Oxford Dictionary). There are many ways to classify question according to its aspects, and each linguist has their own method. However, based on the purpose of using question, there are two kinds: Question to ask and Question for other communicative purposes.

Question to ask is the one that needs particular answers, or finds information. While another is used for other communicative purposes, and it’s very diverse; for example, asking as greeting.

In this paper, I only focus on Question to ask in terms of semantics. Various opinions on classification of question in English have been raised in different English Grammar books. According to some recently contrastive analysis of question in English and Vietnamese in terms of semantics, there are two general kinds: Alternative question and Wh-question. (Thiêm, 2004, page 228)

Alternative question, which people have chance to choose between two or more available options, includes:

  • Yes/No question

Do you like coffee?  Yes, I do./ No, I don’t.

  • Alternative question

Does he come from America or France?
 He comes from America./ He comes from France.

  • Tag-question

You will go on holiday next weekend, won’t you?  Yes, I will./ No, I won’t.
They didn’t pass the exam, did they?  No, they didn’t./ Yes, they did.

  • Declarative question

You buy it?  Yes/ No
He wants to marry you?  Yes/No

Wh-question, which requires more specific information, begins with Wh-word such as who, whom, which, what…

Who do you love?
Why didn’t she come?

Based on the result of analyzing meaning and structure of question, Vietnamese linguists classify Vietnamese question into two kinds: Câu hỏi lựa chọn (Alternative question), Câu hỏi không lựa chọn or Câu hỏi có từ nghi vấn (Question with interrogative words like Ai, ở đâu, khi nào…)

Similar to English question that alternative question in Vietnamese provides options, includes three smaller parts:

  • Hay/hay là, là…hay là

Ngày mai, cậu hay tớ trực nhật?
Máy tính của cậu
hàng Trung Quốc hay là hàng Nhật?

  • Có…không, phải không, đã…chưa

Hôm qua, Mai đi học không?
Anh ăn hết bánh của em rồi
phải không?
đã làm bài tập về nhà chưa?

  • À, ư, nhỉ, nhé

Mai cậu không đi làm à?
Mẹ cho con đi chơi

Question with interrogative words uses word or phrase to ask for information which are varied; for example, ai (who), gì/ cái gì (what), cái nào (which), đâu/ ở đâu (where), khi nào/ lúc nào/ bao giờ/ chừng nào…(when), sao/ tại sao/vì lý do gì (why/ for what reason)…

Ai chở cậu về thế?
Kì nghỉ hè của cậu
như thế nào?
Bao giờ chị ấy về nước?

In brief, we have this comparison table:




Question kinds

Alternative question

Question with interrogative words

Alternative question


Yes/No question (also includes Tag question and Declarative question)

Alternative question

According to previous studies and classifications about question, we have seen great similarities between English and Vietnamese question in terms of semantics, which are equivalent in translation, but also some differences.

In terms of communicative purposes, they are the same, which is asking for information. However, in structure terms they are completely different. It’s clear in word order. In English questions, we usually put an auxiliary verb, a modal verb or the verb “to be” before a subject, or combine with Wh-word to form a question, and intonation is always used. Whereas, Vietnamese question word order is simpler like narrative sentences: “subject +predicate”, and there is no reversion. In order to understand more, we will go into details by contrasting each kind of question.

The first kind is Alternative question which is divided into many smaller parts. Briefly, in both languages, this kind requires answers with a “yes” or “no”. However, if the input is unreasonable, the answer is completely rejected; for example,

A: Is Shara a dentist?
B: I don’t know who she is.

A: Shara là một nha sĩ phải không?
B: Tôi còn không biết Shara là ai nữa.

Now, we will analyze each part to find the similarities and differences.

Firstly, Yes/No question and its equivalence in Vietnamese such as có … không, phải không, à… As I mentioned before, it includes Yes/No question, Tag question and Declarative question.

In Yes/No question, the first thing we can see similar is that “yes” means “có/phải…”, “no” means “không/không phải/không đúng…”. For example,

Do you go to school today?
Yes, I do.

Hôm nay em có đi học không?
Dạ có.

S + (có/phải) + V + không?

Op + S + V…?
On the contrary, they differ in structure. As mentioned above, word order in English question is reversed by putting auxiliary verbs, modal verbs or the verb “to be” (operators) before subjects and using intonation, i.e. raise voice at the end of the sentence. While Vietnamese question word order is unchanged, “subject + predicate”, and added with modal particles like à, ư, nhỉ, nhé,hả… or pairs of adverb like có…không, phải không, đã…chưa, có phải…không, and normally we don’t use intonation.

he work here before?
Are they your children?

Trước đây anh ấy làm việc ở đây phải không?
Chúng là con của chị

There is another difference that in English question we have to answer “yes” if we agree, and the following part must be in affirmative form. If we disagree, we answer “no” and the following part must be in negative form. These are contrary to Vietnamese question that we tend to answer “vâng/dạ” in affirmative or negative form.

A: Can’t you do it yourself?
No, I can’t.
Yes, I can.

A: Con không tự làm được à?
Dạ, con không tự làm được.
Dạ,con tự làm được.

S + V… phải không/à…?

S + V…, Op + not + S?
S + Op + not + V…, Op + S?

In fact, Vietnamese doesn’t have tag question, we just translate it equivalently from English by a statement adding “phải không”, “đúng không”, “à”, “ư”…to the end of the sentence. In English, tag question is a grammatical structure in which a phrase such as “isn’t it?” or “do you?” is added to the end of a statement in order to turn it into a question or check that the statement is correct (Oxford Dictionary) and the voice raised or lowered depends on the purpose of speaking. In addition, if the statement is affirmative, the question tag must be in negative form and vice versa. That’s why Vietnamese learners find it confused to use, and it needs practicing regularly.

You have finished your project, haven’t you?
can’t swim, can you?

Em đã hoàn thành dự án rồi phải không?
Con không biết bơi à?/phải không?

In English, a statement can turn into question if we raise voice at the end of the sentence which we call Declarative question. In Vietnamese, we usually use modal particles or pairs of adverb. But sometimes we raise voice at the end of a statement to express surprise and look for confirmation.

S + V … à/phải không?
S + V …?

S + V + O?

You want to go abroad?

He is going to visit his fiancée tonight?

Chị muốn ra nước ngoài à?
Chị muốn ra nước ngoài? (surprise)
Tối nay anh ấy sẽ đến thăm vợ sắp cưới
phải không?

Secondly, Alternative question which offer options for people to choose, and they often use conjunction “or” in English, “hay/hay là/hoặc là/là…hay là” in Vietnamese between two (or three) words, phrases, or clauses. They have same meaning and purpose in both languages, while they differ in structure a little bit. Moreover, in English alternative question, we raise voice in options before “or” and then lower in the last one which doesn’t occur in Vietnamese.

Op + S + V + O + hay là/hay + O?

Op + S + V + O + or + O?

-Do you like watching TV
or listening to music in your free time?
-Is he a teacher
or a doctor?
-Would you like apple, orange
or banana?

Lúc rảnh, cô thích xem tivi
hay nghe nhạc?
Anh ấy
giáo viên hay là bác sĩ?
Anh thích táo (
hay) cam hay là chuối?

The second kind is Wh-question or Question with interrogative words. In this kind, we are freer to answer but should focus on the information needed, i.e. the purpose is to find the information that askers don’t know and need to know. There is some equivalence between the two languages, especially interrogative words (Wh-words): who/whom – ai, what – gì/cái gì, what for – để làm gì, where – đâu/ở đâu/ở nơi nào, when – khi nào/lúc nào/bao giờ, why – vì sao/tại sao, how – như thế nào…

If Wh-words function as subject, question is the same in both languages. Actually, Vietnamese people often add modal particles like “vậy/thế/như vậy…” to the end of the sentence.

Wh + Op + S + V…?

Wh + Op + S + V…?

Who makes you cry?
When will he marry?
What made her decide?

làm em khóc thế?
Bao giờ anh ấy kết hôn?
Điều gì khiến nó quyết định vậy?

Moreover, Wh-words about reason such as why, for what reason, for which reason… are located at the beginning of the sentence in both languages.


didn’t you come?
For what reason do they get divorced?
For which reason has she been underpaid?

Tại sao
em không đến?
Vì lý do gì mà họ ly hôn thế?
Vì lý do nào mà cô ấy bị trả lương thấp vậy?

If Wh-words don’t function as subject, English and Vietnamese questions have different structures, obviously the word order. In Vietnamese, interrogative words can be at the beginning or at the end of the sentence, and rarely in the centre of the sentence. Whereas, in English, wh-words are always at the beginning of the sentence and operators must be put before subjects. Besides, we have to lower voice at the end in English question, while there is no rule for Vietnamese question.

Wh + V…?
S + V + Wh?

Wh + Op + S + V…?

Who love you?
What did most of the students do?
What did books have to do with children?
Where will she go?
How did he do it?

Ai yêu em?
Phần lớn sinh viên làm
việc gì?
Bọn nhỏ thì cần
Cô ấy sẽ đi
Anh ấy đã làm điều đó
như thế nào?

In English question, the wh-word “When” is only at the beginning and the answer depends on the tense used. While in Vietnamese the equivalent words like “khi nào/hồi nào/bao giờ/lúc nào” can be both at the beginning and the end, and the answer depends on the position of the interrogative word. If the word is at the beginning, it refers to the time in future. If the word is at the end, it refers to the past.


When are you going to graduate?
B: Next year.
When did you graduate?
B: Last August.

Khi nào anh tốt nghiệp?
B: Sang năm.
A: Anh tốt nghiệp
hồi nào?
B: Tháng tám năm ngoái.

When asking about means of transport, in English we use “how” while in Vietnamese we ask “đi bằng (phương tiện) gì?” (By what).


How do you go to work?
B: I go to work
by bus.

A: Chị đi làm
bằng (phương tiện) gì?
B: Tôi
đi (bằng) xe buýt.

People who have studied second language are always influenced by their mother tongue and culture. So, they’re often confused and make mistakes when learning, mostly in terms of question. Based on the analysis above, I would like to discuss some implications for teaching and learning language. Firstly, in order to make it easy for student to learn, teachers should compare and contrast the two languages in terms of culture, and explain clearly how different in making and answering questions between the two languages. Experiencing teaching English, I have found out that most Vietnamese students encounter the same mistake-that is they don’t inverse operators because of Vietnamese question forms; or they use the verb “to be” all the time. Thus, when teaching grammar, teachers should focus on this point. Secondly, teachers can use the similarities to help students understand difficult points, i.e. they can use equivalent translation to explain clearly the difficult ones. Thirdly, because of the mother tongue’s influence, students don’t know whether to raise voice or lower voice and sometimes they speak out a question with the same tone. Therefore, teachers can help them by being a good model or using tape and emphasize on the intonation so that they can be familiar with and use it appropriately. Moreover, tag question doesn’t exist in Vietnamese, so teachers should pay attention to its forms and intonation. Finally, after providing all things, teachers should give students opportunities to practice by giving role-play or communicative activities. The more they practice, the more successful they are.

In brief, we all know that question is one of the most important and basic issues in every language. Thus, it is necessary to contrast question in languages to find the similarities and differences so that we can learn and use languages, English in this case, better and more appropriately. This paper makes a contrastive analysis of question in English and Vietnamese and some suggestions on teaching and learning English in Vietnam; so it can somehow meet our needs.

Works Cited

Đào, V. T. (n.d.). Một số trao đổi về vấn đề so sánh đối chiếu câu hỏi Việt-Anh , 1-6.

Sửu, N. Đ. (2010). Đặc điểm của câu hỏi tiếng Anh: Đối chiếu với tiếng Việt. Hanoi: Social Sciences Pulishing House.

Thiêm, L. Q. (2004). Nghiên cứu đối chiếu các ngôn ngữ. Ha Noi: Hanoi National University Publisher.

Wikipedia: Question. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2010, from Wikipedia:

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