Home / English Lessons / Intonation: Asking a wh-question (what, where, who, why, when, how) | Part 3 | English Pronunciation Lesson

Intonation: Asking a wh-question (what, where, who, why, when, how) | Part 3 | English Pronunciation Lesson

This lesson is from the Elemental English pronunciation series on Intonation:

Watch the video lesson:

…or listen to the audio while reading!:


As was explained in the Introduction to Intonation lesson, the musical pattern of ups and downs in your speech–in both the middle and end of your sentences–is called intonation.

In English, there are three intonation patterns:

  1. Rise  arrow 5
  2. Full fall arrow 6 copy
  3. Partial fall arrow 6 copy 2 

These different musical patterns communicate different messages to your listener.

Asking wh-questions

Although the rising intonation pattern is usually associated with questions, only certain types of questions require your voice to go up at the end of the sentence. To ask a wh-question, which starts with one of the words:

  • “what”
  • “where”
  • “who”
  • “why”
  • “when”
  • “how”

and requests more information from the listener, the speaker’s pitch should go down.

This is most often heard in the very common question:

  • “How are you?”

Could you hear my voice go down on “you” at the end?

  • “How are you?”

If I asked:

  • “How are you?”

with a rising pitch, it would simply sound strange.

Listen and Repeat

  • When did you last go there?” (notice how [d] + [y] –> [dʒ])
  • How’s it goin’ today?”
  • Why can’t you just do the work like I asked?” (notice how I pronounced the consonant cluster “asked”)
  • What’s it gonna take to get this done?” (notice how I transformed the verb “going to” in informal speech)
  • Where’s the best restaurant around here?”
  • Who would ever believe that you guys are twins?”

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