English Question Words

Overview

Learn how to use question words and word order in questions

Toys word and wooden cube with the word WHAT?

Question words are words that are used in the beginning of a question. Depending on what we are asking about, we need to use different question words.

When

“When” is used to ask questions about time.

Examples:
When will she be here? (At what time will she be here?)
When are we leaving? (At what time are we leaving?)

Who

Who” is used when asking about a person or people. It used for singular and plural questions.

Examples:
Who is calling me? (What person is calling me?)
Who will give the speech? (What person will give the speech?)

Whom

Whom” is used when asking about the object-person of sentence. It is not frequently used, and in most cases, using “who” suffices.

Examples:
Whom should I contact for more information?
Whom is she visiting?

Whose

Whose” is used when asking about the possession of something.

Examples:
Whose birthday is it?
Whose car are we taking?

Why

Why” is used when asking about the reason for something.

Examples:
Why are you late? (What is the reason you are late?)
Why are they laughing? (What is the reason they are laughing?)

Where

Where” is used when asking about a location or a place.

Examples:
Where are you going? (What place you are going to?)
Where is the new restaurant? (What is the place of the new restaurant?)

How

How” is used when asking about the manner of things, but it is also used in combination with adjectives and adverbs.

Examples:
How are you getting to work? (What is the manner  with which you get to work?)
How do I do this? (What is the manner with which I do this?)

How” can also be used with “much” and “many”, when asking about the quantity or the amount of something.

Examples:
How much does this dress cost?
How many pieces of pizza did you eat?

How” can also be used with adjectives or adverbs when asking about the intensity, the duration, the quality or the frequency or something.

Examples:
How often do you go to the dentist?
How fast was he driving?
How are you?
How old are they?
How cold is it?

Which

Which” is used when asking about a choice between two things, or a selection of a known quantity of group. It is typically only used for things or objects, but not for people. We use “Who” for people.

Examples:
Which bus do you take?
Which dentist do you go to?
Which one do you like better? The red one or the green one?

In many instances we can use “what” instead of “which“. “What” has a more general quality. “Which” is more specific. In some cases, they can be used interchangeably.

Examples:
Which/What places did you go to?
Which/What classes are available this semester?

What

What” is possibly the most frequently used, and most diverse question word. It is typically used when asking about things, general description or qualities, or activities.

Examples: 
What is the matter with you?
What color is the sun?
What is his favorite movie?
What did they do last weekend?
What does it look like?

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
Writing:
I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
Reading:
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
Listening:
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.