Answering your own questions

Want your English to sound natural? Then don’t keep answering your own questions. Want to know more? Read on!

It’s a common stylistic trick in Dutch: asking a question and then supplying the answer yourself. Customer-facing texts in particular are prone to it. The more natural approach for the native speaker in most cases is to rephrase as a conditional or an imperative:

  • above: If you want your English to sound natural, don’t keep answering your own questions.
  • above: Read on if you would like to know more.
  • Want to know more? Click here => Click here for details
  • When is the museum shop open? (as a heading) => Museum shop opening hours
  • Would you like your logo printed on the invitation? This will cost… => If you woud like…
  • Are there children in your party? We can provide… => If there are…

It’s perfectly valid grammar, of course, so it’s got its place in native English, e.g. where the higher impact of making the reader reconsider is desired. But it just happens to be a favourite NL trick that can easily be overdone and become annoying.

Prevalence: very high. Perhaps related to the reluctance of marketeers in particular to use longer sentences: see Overdoing short sentences.
Frequency: high. Commercial texts – brochures, websites and so forth – are the worst culprits.
Native: yes. Sometimes, as it is valid English. Particularly seen in lazy translations of source that’s phrased that way.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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