You may have noticed I’m a big fan of asking better questions in English!
After all, the main reason most people want to improve how they sound when speaking English is to connect in conversation with other people.
Whether you’re interacting with your friends, colleagues, co-workers, acquaintances, or even strangers on the street, asking better questions will enable you to keep the conversation going.
In this article and video, I’m going to explain how you can show interest in the other person by turning a question around and inviting them to respond.
Asking these types of questions will enable the interaction to feel more like a conversation and less like an interrogation.
These questions are especially useful if you feel like the other person is asking you question after question after question.
By turning the question around and inviting the other person to participate, you show mastery of English while also encouraging them to respond.
So let’s get started!
Why and When You Should Ask “What about you?” and “How about you?”
First, we’re going to talk about two questions that are incredibly useful in conversations in English: “What about you?” and “How about you?”
Many languages have some version of the question “And you?” that we use in order to invite the other person to participate.
While you can say “And you?” in English, it’s much more natural to ask “What about you?” or “How about you?”
These questions invite the other person to answer the question they just asked you after you’ve finished responding to the other person’s question.
Both of these questions turn the conversation around and invite the other person to respond to the same question.
How to Pronounce the Questions “What about you?” and “How about you?”
Next, let’s talk about the way these questions should sound.
Because you’re inviting the other person to respond, you’re going to put extra stress and emphasis on the word “you”:
- What about YOU?
- How about YOU?
In order to show interest in the other person, make sure to use rising intonation with a slight fall on the final word to end the question.
As you can hear in the video, my voice is rising to its highest pitch on the word “you” and then there is a slight drop at the end to signal that my question is complete.
Because these questions are so common in English, you’ll probably hear a native English speaker condense the questions so that they sound like one word: Whaddabout you? How ’bout you?
To be understand by native speakers, I encourage you to make sure your question is clear by using the correct rising intonation with a slight drop on the word “you.”
If you use more flat intonation, it can sound like you’re a little annoyed or irritated: What about you… How about you…
While you may feel a little frustrated if the person’s been asking you question after question, you want to make sure you’re inviting the other person to answer the question.
You may be curious if there’s a difference between “What about you?” and “How about you?
While there is a slight difference between the two questions, most native English speakers will use them interchangeably.
Personally, I think the choice between the questions has to do with the way it sounds during the conversation.
In addition, the difference is related to the way we use the question word “what” and the way we use the question word “how.”
Rather than worry about these details, I suggest you just start using the questions! Most people are not going to notice any difference between the questions.
What they are going to hear is your intonation. They’re going to hear that you’re inviting them to answer the question.
Turn the Question Around By Shifting Stress and Changing the Focus of the Question
Another way we can turn the question around and invite the other person to share their own answer to the previous question is by changing the way we use stress.
In English, we shift the stress of the sentence in order to change the focus and bring the other person’s attention to a particular word.
When we change the expected stress and intonation pattern of the sentence, we can actually change the meaning.
You’ll notice that many native English speakers return the question by asking the same question right back, but with slightly different intonation.
For example, consider the commonly asked question, “How are you?” (Learn more about how to pronounce “How are you?” here.)
After responding, you may return the question by stressing the word “you”: How are YOU?
Changing the stress and emphasis to the word “you” or the pronoun “your” signals to the other person that you want them to respond.
Let’s look at another example: How are you doing?
With normal question intonation, the word “you” is not stressed; the word “doing” is stressed. How are you DO-ing?
In order to turn the question around, you’re going to shift the stress: How are YOU doing?
As a reminder, stress is when we make one syllable of a word longer, louder and higher in pitch.
You’ll notice that when I say the word “you” in all of these examples, my pitch is rising, my volume is louder, and I’m making that syllable a little bit longer.
I’m signaling with my voice that this is the word that’s important.
This extra stress and emphasis communicates a lot of meaning to a native English speaker.
Turning the question around by stressing the word “you” adds more variety to the questions that you’re asking.
If you’re really interested in hearing what the other person has to say, it’s a simple way to encourage them to answer the question.
You also sound more fluent if you include this type of question rather than simply asking, “What about you?” or “How about you?” all the time.
Remember, asking different types of questions makes the conversation more interesting and keeps the other person engaged in what you’re talking about.
More Examples of Turning Common Questions Around
Let’s look at a few more examples:
You may be asked “Where are you from?” and you can respond, “Where are YOU from?”
As you can hear, shifting the stress changes the question so that the other person knows you want a response.
In small talk in American culture, you’ll probably be asked “What do you do?”
Once you respond with your profession, you can return the question, “What do YOU do?”
You may be asked, “What brings you here?” at the beginning of a conversation.
You can return the question by asking, “What brings YOU here?”
Someone might want to know, “What do you like to do on the weekends?”
When you respond, you can say, “What do YOU like to do on the weekends?” or even shorter, “What do YOU like to do?”
Another example of a common inquiry is “What’s your favorite thing about spring?”
You can respond, “What’s YOUR favorite thing about spring?”
As you can hear in this example, I’m stressing “your” because putting extra emphasis on the pronoun “your” signals to the other person that you want their response.
As you can see, turning the question around by stressing the word “you” is an effective way to engage the other person in conversation.
You show interest in their experiences and you also avoid being the only person answering the questions.
Remember, some people get really enthusiastic about learning about someone new. You may feel like you’re answering a lot of questions and maybe you’re even getting a little bit tired.
By inviting the other person to respond with, “What about you?” or “How about you?”, you’re showing that you’re engaged in the conversation, but that you also want to hear what they have to say, too!
Because this style of asking questions is so common among native English speakers, you also sound more natural and more like a native English speaker yourself.
Like I said earlier, you can switch between these forms of asking questions in order to include a little more variety in your conversation:
- What about YOU?
- How about YOU?
- How are YOU?
- Where are YOU from?
Mixing up these questions will help the conversation feel a little more interesting.
It may seem a little subtle, but it is an easy and effective way to communicate more confidently in English.
After watching this video, I hope you feel more confident showing interest in another person by turning the question around.
Knowing how to change up your stress and intonation in order to engage the other person in conversation will help you sound more fluent too!
In the comments below, share whether you’ve ever heard a native English speaker use one of these questions.
Did you know what it meant? Did they say it really quickly? What are some questions you hear other people ask in order to engage you in conversation?
Like I said at the beginning of this article and video, I love talking all about questions you can use to have better conversations in English.
If you think of any you’d like me to explore in a future video, I’d love to hear your suggestions!