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Queries using ASK

An ASK query corresponds intuitively to a Yes/No question in conversational language.

For example, the following query corresponds to the Yes/No question ‘Is Paul McCartney a member of the Beatles?’:

PREFIX dbpedia: <>
PREFIX foaf: <>
PREFIX mo: <>

WHERE { dbpedia:The_Beatles mo:member dbpedia:Paul_McCartney }

If this query is submitted as described above, the answer given will be ‘true’.

Dissecting the syntax of this query, we note the following:

  • The PREFIX statements are not an essential part of a query, but here as elsewhere they are useful as a means of abbreviating RDF triples or patterns. Be careful not to put a full stop at the end of a PREFIX statement, since this will cause a syntax error.
  • The query proper begins with ASK, which specifies the relevant query type.
  • WHERE introduces a graph pattern, which at its simplest is a conjunction of RDF triples or patterns, presented in curly brackets and separated by full stops (or by commas or semicolons, as mentioned in the section on Turtle in Week 1). The patterns may use abbreviations defined in the PREFIX statements, and may include one or more variables. (More complex graph patterns will be described later on.)
  • Layout is free provided that terms are separated by white space. For instance, if you wished you could type the whole query on one line, or at the other extreme type a new-line character after every term. The layout given above with new lines for the key words PREFIX, ASK, WHERE, is adopted only for human readability.
  • The keywords of SPARQL syntax – PREFIX, ASK, WHERE, etc. – are not case-sensitive, so if you prefer you can use prefix, ask, where, and so on. In the examples we consistently capitalise these words for reasons of readability, but this has no effect on how the query engine interprets the query.

If you want to ask whether there are any X, Y, etc. such that certain conditions hold – e.g.,

‘Are there any X such that X is a member of the Beatles’

you need to use RDF patterns, which are like triples except that they contain variables. These are represented by names beginning with a question mark ‘?’, as in this example:

PREFIX dbpedia: <>
PREFIX foaf: <>
PREFIX mo: <>

WHERE { dbpedia:The_Beatles mo:member ?person } 

Next we move on to look at the next type of query for data retrieval: the SELECT query.

This work is a derivative of ‘Using Linked Data Effectively’ by The Open University (2014) and licensed under CC by 4.0 International Licence adapted and used by the University of Southampton.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Linked Data and the Semantic Web

University of Southampton

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

  • Welcome to the course
    Welcome to the course

    Watch Dr Elena Simperl & Dr Barry Norton explain how this short course on linked data & the semantic web can help you use this technology in your work

  • Developing real world applications
    Developing real world applications

    Watch Dr Barry Norton describing some real world applications that have Linked Data as their underlying technology.

  • Welcome to Week 2
    Welcome to Week 2

    Watch Dr Barry Norton explain what you will learn about SPARQL (the query language) on this course and what you will be practicing.