Research studies

Investigating Questions Formation Difficulties Encountered by Undergraduate University Students, (An applied study in Khartoum State, Gezira State, White Nile State )


Prepared by the researcher

  • Dr. Ali Fadlalla Ahmad AL Basheer, Assistant professor, English Language Department, Faculty of Arts, White Nile University, Kosti, Sudan
  • Dr. MohiEldeen Ahmed Abdelrahman, Assistant professor, English Language Department, Faculty of Arts, White Nile University, Kosti, Sudan

Democratic Arab Center

Journal of Afro-Asian Studies : Sixteenth Issue – February 2023

A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin.

Nationales ISSN-Zentrum für Deutschland
ISSN  2628-6475
Journal of Afro-Asian Studies

:To download the pdf version of the research papers, please visit the following link


The research aimed to know the problems and difficulties faced by undergraduate students in universities when trying to construct the question form in the sentence, and the research used the descriptive, statistical and analytical approach, through the questionnaire as a tool for collecting information by a sample of university professors in three states, Khartoum state, Gezira state, White Nile state, And the analysis of the questionnaire through statistical packages for social sciences (SPSS), and the research found results, the most important of which are: The ability of students to recall a new term that was not originally present in the affirmative sentence to transfer it to the negative form. The research also recommended the need to give the educational process outputs greater attention by the designers of educational curricula, and the need to give students classroom training activities that help them to practice and apply when building the question form correctly. And giving teachers sufficient opportunities for training in order to develop their teaching capabilities.


English language is generally used as a means of communication in many countries in the world, it is now global linguafranca and chief language in many countries and regarded as dominant in many fields like education, business and economy. It is documented that the recent development of science and technology has resulted in spreading of English language.

Effort in learning English as the second and foreign language cannot always result in the acquisition of native-like fluency. Still, it can be helpful when learning is intended to meet specific needs of the learners, and generally when a principled and systematic teaching approach is used to make students engage in role to regulate their use of the target language to different contexts in order to create an authentic communication in using English for their studies.

Questioning is an essential part of language learning. It encourages the students to understand the subject content and helps them participate in class activities.

This paper aims to investigate problems that encounter undergraduate university students in the area of forming questions in their writing and speaking. The researchers, as teachers of English Language in Sudanese Universities, have been observing that undergraduates often encounter difficulties concerning forming questions in their writing and speaking, so this study investigates the area of question formation which represents a challenge faces undergraduates. Although many studies have been done on the field of grammar, but the area of forming questions might have not been touched and collectively organized well and may have not been focused on by a lot of researchers.

The researchers hope that the determination of the areas where undergraduates face more difficulties in forming questions will help them to produce words, written or spoken, in a proper way and to encourage them to build a good knowledge about the formation of questions.

Statement of the Problem

The aim of this research is to investigate the problems and challenges that face university students in respect to questions formation difficulties encountered by undergraduate university students when using questions in their writing. It is important because it tackles a very crucial issue in the field of grammar which is supposed to be taken when dealing with problems of learners. The researchers as instructors of English language at different levels and ages have observed that learners of English as a foreign language often face difficulties when they form questions. Therefore, this study aims to focus and investigate why learners do not know how to form questions correctly.

Questions of the research

  1. To what extent do undergraduates encounter difficulties in forming questions?
  2. In which grammatical areas do undergraduates encounter difficulties in forming questions?
  3. What are university instructor’s opinions about undergraduates’ ability to form questions correctly?

Important of the research

The importance of the research is limited to how to develop the skills and capabilities of bachelor’s students in building the question formula by calling for new vocabulary and grammatical rules that help formulate the question in a correct manner.

Objectives of the research

  1. To investigate the difficulties, encounter undergraduates in forming questions.
  2. To prove that learners, face difficulties when they form questions.
  3. To determine which areas show undergraduates disability of forming questions.

Hypotheses of the research

1.Undergraduates encounter difficulties in forming questions.

2.The present and past simple tenses are the most grammatical areas in which undergraduates encounter difficulties in forming questions.

3.University instructors have different opinions about undergraduates’ ability to form questions correctly.

Methodology of the Research

The research used the analytical statistical description and statistical packages for social sciences, (SPSS), and the research used the descriptive, statistical and analytical approach.

Research limits

Spatial boundaries: Sudan, Khartoum State, Gezira State, White Nile State.

Significance of the research

This research is significant because it is being aimed to help university students to develop their ability to form questions in different grammatical areas. Researchers have found it useful to research in grammar specially, forming questions. It is conducted so as to fill the gaps of knowledge and skills that have been left by other researchers in this field, therefore the researchers hope that the findings of this study will effectively contribute to help and encourage learners of English as a foreign language to be aware of forming questions more accurately, also the findings of this study are expected to help teachers to progress their techniques of teaching English as a foreign language.

Literature Review

Definition of Grammar

linguists have slight different points of view in the concern of the term “grammar” and they turn it over from various corners, for instance William J.D. (2005:17) States that “Grammar instruction is a significant part of the language arts curriculum a tall levels of public education. Because performance expectations are high, Prospective teachers face several challenges before they enter the classroom. They must know English grammar exceptionally well.” Whereas on the other way round Thornburrg S. (1999:1) looks at the term “grammar” from the structure, the verb, and the sentence analysis form, he states that “Grammar is partly the study of what forms (or structure) are possible in a language. Traditionally, Grammar has been concerned almost exclusively with analysis at the level of the sentence. Thus a grammar is a descriptive of the rules that govern how a language’s sentences are formed.” Thornburg S. (1999:1) continues that “The system of rules that cover the formation of words is called morphology.

To show a different point of view take for example, DeCapua A. (2009: explains that “The term grammar does not bring pleasant memories to the minds of many people. The term grammar frequently brings to mind tedious lessons with endless drills, repetition, and other generally mindless practice, focused on mostly obscure rules of how people are supposed to write and speak “right”.

To see the term “Grammar ” from a historical view point Seaton A.& Mew Y. H. (2007: 4) Explain that “Grammar” is a very old field of study. Did you know that the sentence was first divided into subject and verb by Plato, the famed philosopher from ancient Greece? That was about 2,400 years ago! Ever since then, students all over the world have found it worthwhile to study the structure of words and sentences”.

Definitions of a Sentence

It deserves mentioning that Seaton A. & Mew Y. H. (2007: 139) set up a significant condition of a sentence, that is to say, a sentence should be meaningful otherwise it isn’t a sentence, they Explain that “A sentence is a group of words that expresses a complete thought. A sentence must have a subject and a verb, but it may or may not have an object.

It is commonly known that we should use words and sentences in a scientific and natural way in order to express the appropriate use of language, this idea is supported by Plag I. and Kroeger P.R.  Firstly, Plag I. (2002: 4) Point out that “It has been estimated that average speakers of a language know from 45,000 to 60,000 words. Secondly, according to Kroeger P. R. and Plag I (2005: 32) ” A sentence is not just a string of words. Rather, the words in a sentence may be grouped into grammatical units of various sizes”.

Constructing negative and questions forms

It is observed that some undergraduates encounter confusion, particularly when they deal with negative and questions forms. Foley M. and  Hall D. (2003) contributed clearly in solving such a challenge, they state that “There are many different ways of forming negatives in English, although the most common way is with not, we can also use adverbs, quantifiers, and prefixes to make the meaning of a sentence or a word negative.”. Alexander L.G. (1990: 190) gives more details about this explanation, he points out that “We can make negative or near-negative statements with adverbs like never, hardly, hardly ever, seldom and rarely, he went on talking about the degree of confirming the statement of negative meaning: “Never is more emphatic than not. Compare: I don’t drink coffee. (negative) with: I never drink coffee. (emphatic negative).

The main types of questions

The two main types of questions are commonly the wh-question forms and the yes or no question forms. The wh- questions are called so because they often begin with (w) and (h) letters and their answers are expected to be a statement or a phrase. Tallerman M. (2011: 244) states that “Wh‑questions are so called because, in English, they begin with a wh‑word such as what, who, where, which, when, why and also how”. In contrast the yes or no questions are types of questions that generally begin with a helping verb or an auxiliary verb and their answers are expected to be (yes) or (no). Elsig M. (2009 🙂 points out that “The first variable context which is considered is yes/no questions… would you destroy it?” – “Does my eye need to be healed by this means?”.

It worth stating that not all questions expect answers, sometimes we ask questions to show a surprise, an exclamation or even to keep the communication going on.

How to form a question?

Hewings M. (2013) states that “We usually make a negative yes/no or wh- question with an auxiliary verb (do, would, have, did etc… + n’t to suggest persuade, or criticize … etc. e.g. Wouldn’t it be better to go tomorrow, why don’t we go out for a meal”. On another hand Walker E. and Elsworth S. (2000: 121) focused on the type of the tense and the position of the verb, they point out that “questions are formed for all tenses except present simple and past simple by changing the position of the auxiliary verb {am, was, will, etc.) and the subject (I, you, she, he, etc.)”

Present and past simple tense are challenges

Based on our experience as teachers of English language, we observed that learners of English as foreign language often face a challenge when they form a question in the present or the past simple tense, this obstacle has occurred because most of the learners don’t have the idea of borrowing an element from outside the components of a sentence to form a negative or a question. Obviously the negative and questions forms in the present and past simple tense never took place without the process of borrowing a word from outside, probably this word is commonly (do, does, did, don’t, doesn’t, or didn’t) it depends on the kind of the subject whether it is first, second or third person. These explanations are not far away from Tallerman, Walker, and Elsworth points of view. Firstly, Walker E and Elsworth S. (2000: 122) pointed out that “questions are formed for the present simple and past simple by using do, does, or did: They work here. Do they work here? She lived here. Did she live here?”. Secondly Tallerman M. (2011: 245 – 246) stated that “the wh‑word or phrase moves to a special position before the left edge of the clause, leaving behind it a gap in the clause structure. In fact, there is evidence from a variety of languages that the initial position to which the wh‑phrase moves is actually the position immediately before the clause‑introducing element known as a complementizer.”


What is one of the wh-words questions, it has many uses, according to Alexander L. G. (1990: 197 “What …? asks for a whole sentence: What are you doing? – I’m reading. or for the object of a sentence: What are you reading? what also combines with nouns: What book / books? What boy/boys?    What girl/girls? compare Which?


Alexander L. G. (1990: 198) points out that “We use when….? to ask about the time past present or future. The answers are usually adverbs of time or prepositional phrases: When is your flight?  Tomorrow morning at 4.


Eastwood J. (2002: 103) states that “After which we sometimes say the possible answers. Which cafe did you go to, Snoopy’s, the Coffee Pot or the Tea Gardens? Which phone shall I use, this one or the one in the office”?


We use Where …? to ask about place. The answers can be whole sentences, phrases or single words “


Alexander L. G. (1990: 199) points out that “Whose? asks about possession. The possessor is always a person and we expect the answer to be somebody’s name + ‘s (Kate’s) or a possessive pronoun (mine).


Alexander L. G. (1990: 201) points out that” Why …? asks for a reason and we answer with because.

How long?

Alexander L. G. (1990: 201) points out that “How long (with or without for) asks about duration. How long ago past tense refers to a point of time.”

Avoiding repetition of questions:

Alexander. G. (1990: 204) points out that “We can abbreviate questions after or: did you laugh or did you cry when you heard the news?  Did you laugh or cry when you heard the news?

Tag Question

Alexander L. G. (1990: 192) points out that” A tag question is a short question (e.g. have ~~~? /haven’t you?) that follows a statement. We form tag questions with auxiliaries (be, have, can, may, etc.) and do, does, did. They are affirmative – negative: John was annoyed, wasn’t he? You like fish, don’t you? or negative – affirmative: John wasn’t annoyed, was he? You don’t like fish, do you?

An echo tag

Azar B. S. (2002: 461) Points out that “a yes/no question is a question that may be answered by yes or no, an informative question is a question that asks for information by using a question word. “

Alexander L. G. (1990: 196) points out that” The word order of question-word questions is: question-word + auxiliary + subject: He is working. He arrives at 8. Yes / No question: Is he working? Does he arrive at 8? question-word: Why is he working? When does he arrive?”  William J.D. (2005:164) States that “Although there are many ways to say no in English even when appearing say yes, grammatically we form the negative using no, not, and never. Technically, these words are adverbials, but phrase-structure grammar analyzes them as negation markers in the Aux”.

Methodology of the research

The descriptive analytical method is adopted in this research in order to achieve the objectives of the research. To conduct this research two tools were followed: the first one was the teachers’ questionnaire, the second was the students’ diagnostic test. The statistical package for social sciences (SPSS) was used to analyze the information obtained by the questionnaire. The questionnaire responses, the diagnostic students test results were analyzed in details.

In this part of the research the researchers describe the methods used for data collection. They present the target subject, study instruments and the procedures to collect data. Then they go on to present tools, reliability and validity of the study instruments. In order to collect the data, the study uses a questionnaire for EFL teachers to examine their opinions.

The population of this research is university instructors of the academic year 2021 – 2022 in the departments of English Language, Faculties of Education and Arts, different Sudanese Universities. The data which this study analyzed were collected from 50 male and female professors at three Sudanese Universities, AL Nileen University, Gezira University and White Nile Universities. The professors are selected randomly from a total population of nearly one hundred professors, a random selection has taken place so that the findings can result in real situation. Most of the instructors have been teaching English as foreign language. In this study, a questionnaire for EFL teachers, which worked through the statistical package of Social Sciences (SPSS) to conclude to the findings.

Validity and Reliability of the research

Nunan (2001) defines ” Reliability refers to the ability of the instrument to give the same result on repeated application of the same subjects”. Based on this concept, teachers’ questionnaire and students diagnostic test were given to five experts who are university teachers, four of them are PhD holders and the fifth is an MA. holder. They gave suggestions and opinions on content, structure and design of both tools, their opinions, views and recommendations were confidential and highly respected and applied, and the result is the current forms of the tools, they recommended that both instruments are expected to give nearly the same result whenever they are given twice to the same subject, and they will measure the objective they are constructed for.

To measure the reliability of teachers’ questionnaire, the researcher used the (SPSS) statistical packages for social sciences, coefficient of consistency in respect to Cronbach’s alpha has been used to measure the reliability and validity of the teachersQuestionnaire, this has been recognized in the equation below:

Data analysis and Discussion

The Statistical Pages for Social Science (SPSS) was used to analyse the questionnaire. The researchers designed a questionnaire to suit the subject of the study and its objectives, in order to collect data from the sample members. It was considered that the questionnaire is comprehensive to measure investigating questions formation difficulties encountered by undergraduate university students, For the subject, related to students and teachers, on this basis, the questionnaire was designed in two parts:

Questionnaire includes 15items spread across fourth Likertian hypotheses    ranging from (strongly agree, agree, To some Extent, disagree, strongly disagree) I strongly agree (5), agree (4), To some Extent (3), disagree (2), strongly disagree (1) where I strongly agree and agree with the positive side, Negative, while neutral means the frequency of the answer in the sense of uncertainty and thus are excluded in the provision and the table below shows the distribution of weights on the approval levels.

Table (1) Distribution of approval grades

Table (2) Data analysis:

  1. (72%) of member sample are agree to item (Undergraduate students know what is meant by the grammatical term “question formation”) and (20%) are to some Extent and (8%) are disagree.
  2. (82%) of member sample are agree to item (Undergraduate students lack of knowledge about question formation results in low quality of writing) and (8%) are to some Extent and (10%) are disagree.
  3. (93%) of member sample are agree to item (Undergraduate students have no idea about borrowing words to build a questions) and (7%) are to some Extent.
  4. (92%) of member sample are agree to item (Some of undergraduate students do not know how to form a question because of the lack of practice in this grammatical area) and (8%) are to some Extent.
  5. (82%) of member sample are agree to item (Learning and acquiring grammatical rules helps undergraduates to form questions accurately) and (10%) are to some Extent and (8%) are disagree.
  6. (87%) of member sample are agree to item (Some of undergraduate students show no tendency to learn how to form questions) and (13%) are to some Extent.
  7. (65%) of member sample are agree to item (Undergraduate students pay little attention to the grammatical rules of question formation) and (15%) are to some Extent and (20%) are disagree.
  8. (67%) of member sample are agree to item (Undergraduate students encounter difficulties regarding constructing a question in past tense) and (25%) are to some Extent and (8%) are disagree.
  9. (70%) of member sample are agree to item (Undergraduate students encounter difficulties in ordering the elements of a question) and (22%) are to some Extent and (8%) are disagree.
  10. (83%) of member sample are agree to item (Undergraduate students confront difficulties when they are asked to change an affirmative sentence into a question) and (12%) are to some Extent and (5%) are disagree.
  11. (78%) of member sample are agree to item (undergraduate students face difficulties when they try to form a question) and (15%) are to some Extent and (7%) are disagree.
  12. (73%) of member sample are agree to item (The most difficulties that face undergraduates to form questions are in present simple tense) and (20%) are to some Extent and (7%) are disagree.
  13. (83%) of member sample are agree to item (Undergraduate students fail to form questions because teachers do not focus on them) and (12%) are to some Extent and (5%) are disagree.
  14. (70%) of member sample are agree to item (Undergraduate students are not provided with enough practice concerning questions formation) and (18%) are to some Extent and (12%) are disagree.
  15. (84%) of member sample are agree to item (Undergraduate students are able to form yes or no questions) and (8%) are to some Extent and (8%) are disagree.


The significance of this research is that it tackles a very important issue namely, the problems encounter BA undergraduate’s university students when using questions in their writing and speaking. Regarding the questions concerning the problems and difficulties the students find in question formation when using English, the main finding are as follows: Grammatical difficulties are the main reasons for example the use of the verb to be is one of the reasons behind the difficulties when forming questions, words order also one of the difficulties and using English adverbs and prepositions, the university student’s problems in forming questions in English refer to the differences between Arabic and English. Students do not know how to form questions because they don’t have the idea of borrowing an element from outside the components of a sentence.  Accordingly, the study recommends that: Curriculum planners and syllabus designers have to give special attention to language learning outcomes and language instructors should encourage the students to develop their language skills through several activities. Instructors should be train so as to improve their performance and competence.

References List of

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 Pearson Educational Publishing ”

  1. Heine B. and Kuteva T (2007) ” The Genesis of Grammar, 1st Edition, Oxford University Press”
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Kroeger P.R. (2005) ” Analyzing Grammar an Introduction,1st Edition, Cambridge University Press.”

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Plag I (2002) ” Word Formation in English, 1st Edition, Cambridge University Press.”

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