Wh- Questions

Wh-questions are questions that begin with one of the 'wh-' words. In order to learn about them and to know how to form a wh- question, read this article!

"Wh- Questions" in the English Grammar

What Are Wh- Questions?

Wh- questions are a type of question that start with wh-words. Wh- questions are used to gather information about a topic or situation. So, you cannot answer wh- questions with 'yes' or 'no.'


Common wh-words used to form wh-questions in English include:

Where do you live?

Who is your favorite author?


'How' does not start with 'wh-'. Nonetheless, it is considered a wh-word.

Wh- Questions: Structure

Using "how many" to ask a question

1. With an Auxiliary Verb

Wh- Questions can be formed with these structures:

wh- word + an auxiliary verb + subject + main verb

When are you moving out?

Where do you live?

What have you done?


wh- word + a modal verb + subject + main verb

Who would you like to talk to?

What should I do?

2. Without an Auxiliary Verb

Some wh-words can function as either the object or the subject of the question. When this is the case, we do not need an auxiliary verb. These wh- words are:

  1. what
  2. who
  3. which
  4. whose

In such cases, the structure of the question would be as follows:

  • wh-word + main verb + rest of the sentence

What fell off the wall?

Who bought this?

Whose phone rang?

How to Answer Wh- Questions?

We ask wh- questions to receive information. Thus, they cannot be answered with a simple 'yes' or 'no'; rather, some relevant information must be provided in the answer. Pay attention to the examples:

- 'Where is that book you were reading last night?' + 'It is in the bedroom.'

- 'How old is your son?' + 'He's 12.'

Negative Wh- Questions

We can form a negative wh- question using the negative form of the auxiliary verbs 'be,' 'do', and 'have'. For example:

Why are you surprised? → Why aren't you surprised?

When do you want to leave? → When don't you want to leave?


Even when the wh-word is the subject of the clause, we can still form negative questions. For example:

Who wants chocolate? → Who doesn't want chocolate?

Which door opened? → Which door didn't open?

Wh- Questions: Adding Emphasis

Sometimes, we might want to put emphasis on a question; either because we have not received the answer or information we wanted, or because we want to show strong interest.
When we want to put emphasis on wh- questions, we can stress the auxiliary verb 'do'.

Where did you go?

When the wh-word is the object of the sentence, the auxiliary 'do' is stressed to make it more emphatic.

So who does live there?

The non-emphatic version of the question would be: 'So who lives there?'

Wh- Questions: Intonation

Typically, Wh- questions are spoken with a falling (↘) intonation, which emphasizes the most important syllable.

To Ask About the Subject or Object

When we are asking a question about the subject, there is no need for an auxiliary verb. But when the object is asked about, an auxiliary is required to form the question properly.

Who drinks tea?

Who do you drink tea with?

In this example, we mean 'with whom do you drink tea?'

Interrogative Words

Interrogative words are divided into three groups:

  1. Interrogative determiners
  2. Interrogative pronouns
  3. Interrogative adverbs

Interrogative Determiners

Determiners are words that give us information about the noun or noun phrase that follows them. Interrogative determiners ask questions. In English there are three interrogative determiners: What, Which, and Whose. Whose is the only possessive interrogative in English. These interrogative determiners can both form direct and indirect questions. They can also form exclamations.

  • Interrogative determiner "what"

We can use 'what' to ask for information about subjects (no inversion) or objects (with inversion).

What did you do?


What happened?


  • Interrogative determiner "which"

We use 'which' to ask questions about choices or possibilities. For example:

Which one is better?

  • Interrogative determiner "whose"

We use 'whose' to ask about ownership or possession. For example:

Whose car is this?


Do not confuse 'whose' with 'who's' which is the contracted form of 'who is' or 'who has'.

Interrogative pronouns

An interrogative pronoun is a type of pronoun that seeks an answer. The common and main interrogative pronouns in English are: What, Which, Who, Whom, and Whose. Some of the less common interrogative pronouns are similar to the main interrogative pronouns but with an added suffix: whatever, whichever, and whatsoever. Like the interrogative determiners, the answer to interrogative pronouns always functions as a noun.

  • Interrogative pronoun "which"

We use 'which' to ask questions about choices or possibilities, and the answer is expected to be a choice or possibility too. For example:

Which book do you want?

  • Interrogative pronoun "what"

We use 'what' to ask for information about subjects (no inversion) or objects (with inversion). The answer can be an abstract or concrete object.

What is this?

What do you like?

  • Interrogative pronoun "whose"

We use 'whose' to ask about possession and ownership.

Here is a phone, whose is it?

  • Interrogative pronouns "who" and "whom"

We use these pronouns to ask about a person. We can use 'who' as a subject (like he, she, you, I) and 'whom' as an object (like him, her, you, me). Let's see how they are used in sentences:

Who is calling me?

Here we could replace 'who' with 'he'. So it is the subject.

Whom did you call?

Here, we need to change the order of the words to find out whether 'he' or 'him' can be used: 'did you call him?'. So, 'whom' is correctly used as the object.


Be careful not to confuse interrogative pronouns with interrogative determiners. They may look similar but serve different grammatical functions.
When the 'wh-words' precede a noun or pronoun and modify it, they are interrogative determiners. When they appear on their own, they are pronouns. Let's see some examples:

Which book is the best?

'Which' as an interrogative determiner

What color do you like?

'What' as an interrogative determiner

Which is the best?

'Which' as an interrogative pronoun

Whose should we take?

'Whose' as an interrogative pronoun

Interrogative Adverbs

Interrogative adverbs are used to ask questions, and when a question starts with one, the following word is typically the verb. The interrogative adverbs include 'where', 'why', 'when', and 'how'. When answering these types of questions, the response should always be an adverb, whether it is a single-word adverb or an adverbial phrase or clause.

We use the interrogative adverb 'where' to form questions about places and locations. For example:

Where do you go this summer?

Where is the toy I bought you earlier?

  • Interrogative adverb of 'reason'

We use the interrogative adverb 'why' to form questions related to reasons and causes. For example:

Why are you going there?

Why did he tell you to leave?

We use the interrogative adverb 'when' to form time-related questions. We can also use 'how' to ask these questions.

When will you leave?

When does the show start?

How long is left until the show starts?

How often do you eat out?

We use the interrogative adverb 'how' to form questions about manner. For example:

How brutally did they do this?

How quickly did they arrive?

We use the interrogative adverb 'how' to form questions about quantity and amount. For example:

How much does it cost?


How many birds are there?


We use the interrogative adverb 'how' + attributive adjective to form a question about 'degree'. For example:

How bad are you at math?

How tall is he?

How fast is it?

As you can see 'how' can be a bit tricky. First of all, it is the only wh-question word that does not start with a 'wh', and secondly, it can be used to ask about different things.


Wh- questions are used to ask for information about something. The answers to these questions are not 'yes' or 'no.'
Here are some wh-words that are used to ask wh-questions.

what when where
who whom which
whose why how

The general structure for wh-questions is to put the wh-word at the beginning of a sentence followed by a yes/no question. Look at the following examples:

What are you doing?

Who eats chicken?


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