Using What, Where, When, Why, Who, and How
Learning how to ask questions is essential in any language. In English, the most common questions are known as “wh” words because they begin with those two letters: where, when, why, what, and who. They can function as adverbs, adjectives, pronouns, or other parts of speech, and are used ask for specific information.
Use this word to ask questions about people. In this example, “who” serves as a direct object.
Who do you like?
Who has he decided to hire for the job?
In other instances, “who” serves as the subject. In this case, the sentence structure is similar to that of positive sentences.
Who studies Russian?
Who would like to take a vacation?
In formal English, the word “whom” will replace “who” as the direct object of a preposition.
To whom should I address this letter?
For whom is this present?
Use this word to ask about things or actions in object questions.
What does he do at weekends?
What do you like to eat for dessert?
By adding the word “like” to the sentence, you can ask for physical descriptions about people, things, and places.
What type of car do you like?
What is Mary like?
Use this word to ask questions about time-related events, specific or general.
When do you like going out?
When does the bus leave?
This word is used to ask about location.
Where do you live?
Where did you go on vacation?
This word can be combined with adjectives to ask questions about specific characteristics, qualities and quantities.
How tall are you?
How much does it cost?
How many friends do you have?
When paired with a noun, this word is used when choosing between a number of items.
Which book did you buy?
Which kind of apple do you prefer?
Which type of computer takes this plug?
A number of “wh” questions can combine with prepositions, typically at the end of the question. Some of the most common combinations are:
- who … for
- who … with
- where … to
- where … from
- what … for (= why)
- what … in
Note how these word pairings are used in the following example.
Who are you working for?
Where are they going to?
What did he buy that for?
You can also use these pairings to ask follow-up questions as part of a larger conversation.
Jennifer is writing a new article.
She’s writing it for Jane magazine.
When more general verbs such as “do” and “go” are used, it’s common to use a more specific verb in the reply.
Why did he do it?
He wanted to get a raise.
Questions with “why” are often replied to using “because” as in the following example.
Why are you working so hard?
Because I need to finish this project soon.
These questions are often replied to using the imperative (to do). In this case, the clause with “because” is understood to be included in the answer.
Why are they coming next week?
To make a presentation. (Because they are going to make a presentation.)
Test Your Knowledge
Now that you’ve had a chance to review, it’s time to challenge yourself with a quiz. Provide the missing question words. The answers follow this test.
- ____ is the weather like in July?
- ____ much is the chocolate?
- ____ boy won the race last week?
- ____ did you get up this morning?
- ____ team won the World Cup in 2002?
- ____ does Janet live?
- ____ long does the concert last?
- ____ food do you like?
- ____ does it take to get to New York from Albany?
- ____ does the movie begin this evening?
- To ____ do you report at work?
- ____ is your favorite actor?
- ____ house does he live in?
- ____ is Jack like?
- ____ does the building look like?
- ____ does she study English with?
- ____ do the people in your country go for vacation?
- ____ do you play tennis?
- ____ sports do you play?
- ____ is your doctor’s appointment next week?
- What time / When
- What kind of / What type of
- How long
- What time / when
- Whom – formal English
- How often / When
- Which / How many
- What time / When