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Learning Grammar through Reading: What Harry Potter Can Teach Us about English Grammar Rules (Week 3)

Learning Grammar through Reading: Harry Potter Week 3

Interrogative Sentences and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Minerva McGonagall as her animagus.So far in this series, we’ve used some of the best quotes from Harry Potter to learn about homophones and common comma usage. Today, we’re going to look at the third book in the series, the one that causes readers to start having a lot of important questions about the story, like, who is this Sirius Black guy, anyway? What actually happened on the night of Harry’s parents’ deaths? What kind of person was James Potter? And, most importantly, what kind of Patronus would you cast if you had to face a Dementor?

In honor of all the questions brought up by the third Harry Potter book, this article is going to take a look at the four different types of interrogative sentences.

Warning: This post contains spoilers. I won’t apologize for any of them, but I will encourage you to read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban before proceeding. I’m sure it’s something you’ve been meaning to get around to anyway, right?

Introduction to Interrogative Sentences

There are several types of sentences. The major sentence types are declarative sentences, imperative sentences, exclamatory sentences, and interrogative sentences. Interrogative sentences ask questions. They always end with question marks, so they are very easy to identify. There are four types of interrogative sentences: yes or no interrogatives, alternative interrogatives, wh- interrogatives, and tag questions. Let’s look at each type in greater depth.

Type 1: Yes or No Interrogatives

“You think the dead we have loved truly ever leave us? You think that we dont recall them more clearly in times of great trouble?”

Dumbledore is using interrogative sentences to make Harry question his beliefs about death. These questions are examples of yes or no interrogatives, as yes or no are the only possible answers to these questions. When it comes to using these types of sentences to prove a point, Dumbledore is pretty much a trained professional. Though, to be fair, what isnt Dumbledore a pro at?

Type 2: Alternative Interrogatives

“Did you check the lunar chart and realise that I was always ill at the full moon, or did you realise that the boggart changed into the moon when it saw me?”*

Ah, yes, that awkward moment when Hermione knows that Lupin is a werewolf but doesn’t know that Sirius Black isn’t a murderer. Lupin is wondering how Hermione discovered his canine attributes, so he asks her a question using an alternative interrogative sentence; that is, he gives her more than one possible answer framed within the question itself. Of course, in this case, the answer is “both.”

Type 3: Wh- Interrogatives

“There is no need to say any more, Miss Granger. Tell me, which of you will be dying this year?”

Professor McGonagall is using a wh- interrogative—that is, an interrogative question beginning with a wh- word (who, what, where, when, why, whom, whose, which, and—an exception—how)—to figure out why her Transfiguration class is feeling so down after their Divination lesson with Professor Trelawney. Professor McGonagall is the only teacher I know who can pull off interrogative statements as well as she can pull off turning into a cat while still commanding the respect of her students. She’s also the only teacher I know who can turn into a cat—but, I digress.

Type 4: Tag Questions

“That was the best Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson we’ve ever had, wasn’t it?”

Neville's boggart: Professor SnapeIn the above quotation, Ron uses a tag question. That is, he “tags” a question onto the end of a declarative sentence. Ron is asking the others to confirm his thought that the Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson was the best they’ve ever had. Tag questions tend to be used quite a lot by people who are insecure about their own perceptions or opinions. Then again, if we had just seen Professor Snape in a lacy dress, we would probably think it was a pretty great lesson, too.


This concludes today’s Harry Potter lesson for learning grammar through reading. Have you learned anything new about interrogative sentences today? Did you find this lesson interesting, or would you rather just read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban instead? What would your Patronus look like? What about your boggart? There’s quite a lot to think about after reading this book, don’t you think?

Please remember to check out next week’s article, which will cover subject–verb agreement and will feature everyone’s favorite house-elf. If you liked today’s post, please feel free to reach out on Facebook or Twitter.

*Note: This quote has been slightly altered from its original form.