C1 · speaking

Interacting in conversation: Reply questions

Serena’s blog

One of the things that examiners assess during speaking tests at the EOI is interaction; as the examinees take this test in pairs. Therefore, during this test it is fundamental to allow conversation to flow, because if this fails it could very possibly mean that whatever was said, had been learnt off by heart and there’s no real interaction.

In real-life communication, we commonly show that we are following a conversation (although some people tend to forget this and go babbling away in a monologue-like fashion for what seems like hours). One way in which we can show that we’re paying attention is by reacting to what the interlocutor said through a reply question. By using this device, we’re showing interest, surprise and maybe even empathy towards other people’s situations.

Reply questions are quite similar to question tags in a way that they go back to a previous statement. However, they are made by the other person and the structure changes.

Reply questions use an auxiliary + pronoun structure

Usually, if the statement is positive, the reply question is positive and if the statement is negative the reply question is negative. Look at these examples.

‘I’ve got a stomach ache.’ ‘Have you? Well I’m not at all surprised after all that chocolate cake.’

‘John’s head over heals for Sally.’ Is he? Well he surely doesn’t know her very well yet.’

‘Unfortunately, Iron Maiden didn’t play my favourite song.’ Didn’t they? How disappointing!

We can also express surprise in a reply question by adding ‘really’ or/and an exclamation.

Jane has been promoted.’ ‘Has she really?/Has she?

In the structures above we’d use a rising intonation.

When we want to show agreement with somebody’s statement, we can use a negative reply question with a falling intonation.

‘That was his best game.’ ‘Yes, wasn’t it?

Here’s flipping card activity for you to get these structures under your belt. Read and figure out what the best answer would be. Flip the card to see if you were right.

How would you answer if you mean to be kind?

'I've got a splitting headache. Can you turn that music down?'

'Have you? I'll turn it down.'

What would you answer to show agreement? What intonation would you use?

'That was horrible, that film. So much violence made my stomach churn!'

Yes, wasn't it. (falling intonation)

What would you reply? 

'Unfortunately for us, they forgot to book a table.'

Did they?

What would you reply? Intonation?

'Guess what? I'm going to France for the weekend.'

Are you? Rising

What would you answer to show agreement? Intonation?

'I think it was rude of her to snub Jane during the meeting.'

Yes, wasn't it? (falling intonation)

What would you answer? Intonation?

Unfortunately, the concert was cancelled.

Was it? Rising intonation.

How would you answer to show surprise?

'I know I've just said I was on a diet, but I think I'll have some fish and chips.'

'Will you?(really!)

What would you reply? Intonation?

'Dad's spent all day pottering around the garden.' 

Has he?

What's would you reply to show interest?

'We saw a really good film last night.'

Did you?/ Did you really?

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