questions and answers

Sometimes one word can change the meaning of a question, and the (possible) answer(s) to it. The students were doing an activity in which they had to create questions from a prompt, then ask their partner. At the end I got pairs to stand up and ask and answer one of their questions. The first was ‘Which city / most like to visit and why?’. The asker of the first pair asked ‘Which city would you most like to visit and why?’ and the answerer answered ‘New York’ and gave her reasons. The asker of another pair asked ‘Which city do you most like to visit and why?’, which is an equally valid but completely different question with probably a different answer, though maybe with the same answer. (I can’t remember what the student’s answer was.) Certainly, the scope of the first question is wider: I would like to visit hundreds of cities, and I like to visit a handful. (Naturally, I might say ‘I like visiting …’, but I’ll ignore that grammatical nicety for the moment.)

Another prompt was ‘Which famous person / you like to look like? Why?’. Another asker asked ‘Which famous person would you like to look like?’ and the answerer (a young Taiwanese man) answered ‘Hermione Granger’. Putting aside the question of whether she is a ‘famous person’, there was the incongruity of a young Taiwanese man wanting to look like Emma Watson (putting aside the question of whether Hermione really looks like Emma). I asked ‘Why?’ and he answered ‘Because she knows all the answers to all the questions’. I asked ‘So you’d like to look like an English girl with long hair?’ and he realised what the question actually was. He answered ‘David Beckham’, because he’s tall, good-looking and good at football. In this activity, it is not possible to ask ‘Which famous person would you like to be like?’, because ‘look’ is given. It is also not probable to ask ‘Which famous person do you like to look like?’, unless you are interviewing a practiced impersonator.


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