I tried with basic thing like whether question starts with who/what/.. but there are a lot many sentences which do not start with interrogative words but still demands an answer like "hotels in singapore".

I have boiled down the logic that the sentences that are not providing some information but are incomplete in that sense, could fall in the interrogative class only. Are there some references for this topic?

  • 2
    Usually one tells by the intonation at the end. In print, a question mark usually indicates the same intonation.
    – jlawler
    May 8, 2014 at 3:01
  • Is "hotels in singapore" really asking for an answer ? I think it can be : If the prosody is the one of a question. If the setup tells you so: non english speaker tourist pointing a map. If you are typing this in a search engine... But without extra context I would say it is not asking for an answer.
    – Ugo
    May 8, 2014 at 9:27
  • for that matter consider it as if it is typed in search engine and it is asking for answer. May 8, 2014 at 12:59
  • @user3614506 In the case of search engine queries it is not a linguistic feature which denotes the utterance as interrogative but rather the context in which the utterance takes place. I.E. people typically only use search engines when requesting information.
    – acattle
    May 10, 2014 at 11:18
  • 2
    Please edit your question to indicate whether you are interested specifically in English, or across languages generally; and tag appropriately. May 12, 2014 at 5:46

3 Answers 3


There is no mechanical way to determine the communicative intent of a sentence with 100% certainty.

Things like word order, word choice, intonation, punctuation, etc. will help but all sentences are used within a broader communicative context to achieve various speech acts. Sometimes, these are clearly signalled. Other times, they require a complex human understanding of the situation in order to be able to fully parse what's going on. And, remember, often, even humans misunderstand each other. How often do you hear people answer rhetorical questions.

Take the simple 'How are you?' Most often, it is used as part of a greeting and it does not require an answer. But very often it does. But speakers may have to elaborate. 'I really mean it.', etc. Or people will follow up a question with - 'This is a rhetorical question.' You will even hear things like 'This is a rhetorical question but I'm going to answer it anyway.'


In many versions of the English language, most times the intonation at the end of the statement is usually the indication of a statement being an interrogation. There is usually a high pitched tone at the end of the question; when it's asked sincerely.

p.s: Sarcasm may sometimes leave a dipping tone at the end of the question. For example "You leaving." ...when asked by someone who does not expect you to leave.


You can develop a Classifier using Stanford Column Data Classifier to solve this issue.


Develop a Dataset which contains two types of sentences, "questions" and "information" according to the training file format of Stanford Column Classifier. Next, train the Classifier. Then, use the trained classifier to interrogate on arbitrary sentence you would like to determine as a Question or Information.

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