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!

intermediate
"Wh- Questions" in the English Grammar

What Are Wh- Questions?

Wh- questions begin with wh- question words. Below, you can see the list of these words:

Tip

'How' does not start with Wh- but nonetheless, it is considered a wh- question word.

We use them to ask for information. You cannot answer Wh- Questions with 'yes' or 'no.'

Where do you live?

Who is your favorite author?

Wh- Questions: Structure

1. With an Auxiliary Verb

Wh- Questions are 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?

or

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

Who would you like to talk?

What should I do?

2. Without an Auxiliary Verb

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

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

The word order of the question would be:
wh question 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. You cannot answer a Wh- question with a simple 'Yes' or 'No.' You should answer in such a way that gives information.

'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 make a negative Wh- question with the negative form of the auxiliary verbs 'be,' 'do' and 'have.'

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

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

Tip

Even when the wh-word is the subject of the clause, the above rule applies.

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

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

How to Add Emphasis to Wh- Questions?

Sometimes we want to put emphasis on a question; either because we have not already get the answer or information that we wanted, or we have wanted 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 do auxiliary 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?'

How Is the Intonation of Wh- Questions?

Normally, the intonation of Wh- questions is falling (↘). The falling intonation is on the most important syllable.

To Question the Subject

Whenever we questioning the subject, an auxiliary verb is not needed. But when the object is questioned we always need an auxiliary to make questions.

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

As we have learned before the determiners are a group of words that give us information about their following noun ornoun phrase. Interrogative determiners ask questions. In English there are three interrogative determiners: What, Which, Whose; Whose is also 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 use it to ask information about subjects (with no inversion) or objects (with inversion).

What did you do?

Object

What happened?

Subject

  • Interrogative determiner "which"

We use it to ask questions about choices or possibilities.

Which one is better?

  • Interrogative determiner "whose"

We use it to ask about ownerships or possessions.

Whose car is this?

Tip!

Pay attention to not confuse "whose" with "who's" which is the contracted form of who is or who has.

Interrogative pronouns

We have learned that the pronouns are the words we use to replace a noun. Interrogative pronoun is a type of pronoun that seeks an answer. The common and main interrogative pronouns are: What, Which, Who, Whom and Whose. Some of the less common interrogative pronouns are the same with the mentioned pronouns only with suffixes: Whatever, Whichever, Whatsoever. The answer to these interrogative pronouns is always something working as a noun. Just like the interrogative determiners.

  • Interrogative pronoun "which"

We use it to ask questions about choices or possibilities, and the answer is expected to be a choice or possibility too.

Which book do you want?

  • Interrogative pronoun "what"

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

What is this?

What do you like?

  • Interrogative pronoun "whose"

We use it to ask about possessions and ownership.

Here is a phone, whose is it?

  • Interrogative pronouns "who" and "whom"

We use them when the answer is a person (or it is expected to be). We use "who" as a subject (like he, she, you, I) and "whom" as an object (like him, her, you, me).
Let's see how can we make sure we use who and whom correctly:

Who is calling me?

Here we could replace who with "he".

Whom did you call?

Here is tricky, we need to change the order to find out whether "he" or "him" can be replaced 'did you call him?', So yes! Whom is the right choice.

Warning!

Don't confuse the interrogative pronouns and interrogative determiners. Even though they look the same but they are not. Let's see some examples:

Which book is the best?

What color do you like?

Whose car should we take?

As you can see the "wh-words" here are not alone; they all are standing behind a noun or pronoun and modifying it. Therefor they are the interrogative determiners. Now let's see some other examples:

Which is the best?

What do you like?

Whose should we take?

As you can see these wh-words are all alone and standing by themselves. Therefore, they are interrogative pronouns.

Interrogative Adverbs

We use the interrogative adverbs to ask questions. When a question starts with an interrogative adverb the following word is the verb. The interrogative adverbs are: Where, Why, When and How. The response to these questions 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 related to place matters.

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.

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 is the show starts?

How long is left until the show starts?

How often do we eat out?

We use the interrogative adverb "how" to form questions about manner.

How brutally did they do this?

How quickly did they arrive?

We use the interrogative adverb "how" to form questions about quantity, amount.

How much does it cost?

amount

How many birds are there?

quantity

We use the interrogative adverb "how" + attributive adjective to form a question about degree.

How bad are you at math?

How tall is he?

How fast is it?

As you can see "how" is a little bit tricky, first it is the only wh-question word that does not start with a "wh", and also it can be used for various matters.

Review

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?

Comments

Loading recaptcha

You might also like

Negative Markers

Negative markers are used to make sentences with a negative meaning. In this lesson, we will learn about them.

Questions

In English, there are different types of questions. In this lesson, you will get to know them briefly and see some examples for each type. Are you ready?

Yes/No Questions

'Do you like English?' 'Are you making progress?' 'Have these lessons been helping you?' If you want to learn about how to make yes/no questions, read this.

Embedded Questions

A question within another question?! I wonder how's that ! let's see what are embedded questions to learn more about them.

Tags

Tags are short clauses that look like questions. They are generally used at the end of a clause to ask for a response from the listener. Let's learn more!

Agreement

Consider the sentence ' They is at home'. It is incorrect. There are different components in a sentence that need to agree with each other.

Download LanGeek app for free