How do you make friends? How do you win clients? How do you build relationships? The secret lies in knowing how to turn a conversation with someone into a connection.

Often, that happens when people share not just facts, but also opinions, thoughts, feelings, experiences, and stories. But how do you start a conversation so people give you such meaningful responses?

The key is to ask open-ended questions, rather than closed ones. Closed questions usually produce a short, yes or no response; they tend to limit the conversation. On the other hand, open questions produce a longer, fuller response; they expand the conversation.

The most important benefit of open-ended questions is that they let you find out more than you expected. People may share fears and problems, hopes and solutions, ideas and possibilities. By understanding both types of questions, you can use the right one at the right time, depending on the situation and your goals.

This resource will show you the difference between closed and open questions, when and how to use each, and then give you over 100 sample closed questions and of 100 sample open-ended questions!


Personal Did you have a good day? How was your day?
Social Do you want to see a movie? What would you like to do?
Academic Was it a good course? What did you think of the course?
Professional Was it a useful meeting? How was the meeting?

Both closed and open questions serve a purpose. Sometimes, one starts with a simple, closed question, and then moves on to a more open one. In fact, if you don’t switch to open questions, the dialogue will feel like an interrogation, rather than a conversation!

Sample Closed Conversation:

John: What do you do?
Mary: I’m a teacher.
John: Do you like your job?
Mary: Yes.
John: Who do you work for?
Mary: ABC School.
John: Where is your office?
Mary: Downtown.

Sample Open Conversation:

John: What do you do?
Mary: I’m an architect.
John: What led you to that career?
Mary: I was always interested in building things.
John: That’s so interesting. Tell me more.
Mary: Well, from the time I was young I would play with materials like carboard, clay, and wood to see what I could create with them…
Closed Questions Open Questions
encourage a yes/no answer encourage a full answer
limit conversation develop conversation
make people think less make people think more
make people think superficially make people think deeply
evoke short, factual answers evoke longer, meaningful answers
produce facts and basic information encourage thoughts, opinions, feelings, stories
produce few or no surprises may produce surprises
give control to the questioner give control to the speaker
are like multiple-choice questions on a test are like short-answer questions on a test
Closed Questions Open Questions
to start a conversation:
It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?
to develop a conversation:
Do you like this kind of weather?
to get basic information:
Do you speak English?
to build a relationship:
How did you learn to speak English so well?
to find out short facts:
Is this laptop available in blue?
to find out about wants, needs, problems, concerns, hopes, fears:
Are you happy with your new laptop?
to influence others to think from your perspective (salespeople):
Wouldn’t you love to drive a car like this?
Are you happy with your cellphone company?
to explore a problem:
How can we achieve peace?
How can we prevent a war?
to limit choices, push agreement:
If I agree to that price, will you sign now?
Would you prefer to pay on the 1st or the 15th?
to expand choices, encourage creativity:
What features would you like to see in a cellphone plan?
to do research & quantify data:
Would you buy this car?
How much would you pay?
to brainstorm:
What would make you buy this car?
Question Words
Closed Questions Open Questions
Do/Did What
Are/Was/Were/Will How
Who Describe
When Tell me about
Where Why

Sample Questions

General Did you have a good day? How was your day? Was it a busy day? What did you do today? Are you excited? How do you feel? Are you nervous? How are you feeling? Does this bus go downtown? What’s the best way to get downtown? Is summer your favorite season? What’s your favorite season? Does it work like this? How does it work? Did you know…? How did you know…?
Entertainment Did you like the movie? How was the movie? Did you like the concert? How was the concert? Did you enjoy the show? How was the show? Was the performance good? How was the performance? Did the band perform well? How was the band? Was the festival fun? How was the festival? Did you like the club? How was the club? Do you like Designated Survivor? What do you think of Designated Survivor? Do you watch football? What sports do you watch?
Business Was it a good meeting? How was the meeting? Was it a useful conference? How was the conference? Was it a worthwhile exhibition? How was the exhibition? Was it a good presentation? How was the presentation? Was it a successful event? How was the event? Did sales go up this year? How were sales this year? Can I improve my presentation? How can I improve my presentation? Did you like their proposal? What did you think of their proposal? Do you like your new job? How do you feel about your new job? Do you have a good boss? What is your boss like? Are you satisfied with our service? On a scale of 1–10, how satisfied are you with our service? Did you like our new website? What did you think of the new website? Was it easy to use? How easy or difficult was it to use? Do you get to work by bus or subway? How do you get to work?
Travel Did you have a good holiday? How was your holiday? Was the hotel any good? How was the hotel? Was the resort nice? How was the resort? Was the weather nice? How was the weather? Did you have a good flight? How was your flight? Did you have a good vacation? How was your vacation? Did you like it? What was it like? Did you have a good time in Spain? What was it like to visit Spain? Did you enjoy visiting the Pyramids? What was it like to see the Pyramids? Did you like going scuba diving? What was it like to go scuba diving? Did you enjoy living in Japan? What was it like to live in Japan? Are you going to do any sightseeing? What are you planning to do there? Are you going to visit the Eiffel Tower? What places are you planning to visit? Did you choose this hotel because it’s downtown? Why did you choose this hotel?
Restaurants Did you like the food? How was the food? Was the service efficient? How was the service? Did you like the décor? How was the décor? Did they have a good buffet? How was the buffet? Were their prices reasonable? How were the prices? Did you like the ambience? How was the ambience? Did you like the restaurant? How was the restaurant? Would you like the chocolate cake? What kind of dessert would you like? Do you want vanilla or strawberry? What flavor would you like?
Health Are you feeling better today? How are you feeling today? Is your back better? How is your back? Has the fever gone down? How is the fever? Is your grandfather feeling better? How is your grandfather?
Hobbies Do you like fiction? What kind of books do you enjoy reading? Do you like comedies or dramas? Do you like photography? What kind of movies do you like? What are your hobbies?
Technology Are you happy with your new phone? How’s your new phone? Do you like your new laptop? How’s your new laptop? Are you pleased with your new car? How do you like your new car?
Parenting Who started the fight? How did the fight start? Did you feel sad when your goldfish died? How did you feel when your goldfish died? Do you want mac and cheese for dinner? What would you like for dinner? Did your test go well? How was your test? Do you like dolls? What kind of toys do you like? Is Judy your best friend? Who’s your best friend?
Politics Who are you going to vote for? What do you think about the main candidates in this election? Do you think John Artway will win the election? What would happen if John Artway won the election? Do you think they will ever make peace? What would happen if they made peace? Do you think we should change this law? What would happen if we changed this law?
Social Life Do you want to go to the park? What would you like to do today? Do you want to see a movie? Where would you like to go tonight? Was the wedding amazing? How was the wedding? Did she wear a white wedding gown? What did the bride wear? Did you enjoy the party? How was the party?
Academics Did the exam go well? How was the exam? Do you like English? What subjects do you like? Are you having a problem with the prepositions? What’s difficult for you? Did you understand? What did you understand? Did you learn anything interesting today? What did you learn in school today? Did you enjoy the seminar? How was the seminar? Was the lecture worth attending? How was the lecture? Is the professor any good? How was the professor? Was the course any good? What did you think of the course?
Questions to ask teachers & classmates Am I doing well? How can I improve my grades? Is my writing good? How can I improve my writing? Is my English all right? How’s my English? Should I take this class? Why should I take this class? Is math your favorite subject? What’s your favorite subject?

Learning to ask open-ended questions can lead to some of the most interesting and meaningful conversations – and connections – in your life!

Watch the lesson below for a full explanation and demonstration of how to use open-ended questions in conversation.

engVid quiz

Test your understanding of this English lesson

Test your understanding of the English lesson by answering these questions. You will get the answers and your score at the end of the quiz.