English Corner – Question Words

Knowing how to pose a question in English is a key component towards developing proficiency in the language. You’ll be able to better get around a city, ask for directions, find nearby places, and ask for the meaning of something among other uses. When it comes to getting the specifics in characteristics, times, places, people, and things; having the ability to create a question is a key part towards getting the information you need to make a decision or understand something new.

In order to do that, we need to become familiar with the different options for question words in English. Question words mainly come at the beginning of a sentence and come in seven different forms although there are variations within each question word. For this article, we will be focusing on the seven main question words: ‘why, when, where, what, who, which, and how.’ Each of these seven question words are used under different circumstances and for different reasons. First, I’ll break down how we use each question word and also give examples about how to use each of these words in a basic sentence.

Why

When you use the question word ‘why’, you’re trying to get a reason, a meaning, or an explanation from someone about something that happened. You are trying to get the purpose out of what has happened or occurred. ‘Why’ is most often used in the past tense and can be related to a prior event or procedure. If you’re looking to understand what the cause or reason for something is, you’ll want to use ‘why’ for this kind of question.

Examples:

  • Why did you cheat on your final exam?
  • Why is he not telling the truth?
  • Why were you chewing gum during class?

When

For the question word ‘when,’ its usage centers around being able to know about a general or specific time and/or place. If you’re on public transportation, ‘when’ would definitely come in handy when you need to ask about the arrival or departure of a bus, plane, or train. Asking about a person’s preferences when it comes to how they manage their time is also useful for ‘when.’ The past, present, and future tenses can all be used with ‘when’ as well with no problem.

Examples:

  • When are you and your friends going to the movies later?
  • When did your flight arrive from Istanbul?
  • When will the next train be leaving the station?

Where

If you want to inquire specifically about places and locations, you’ll need to use the question word of ‘where.’ In order to get to know somebody better, you can also ask about where they have been to as well as where are they going. ‘Where’ is often focused about inquiring about places but it can be used to get to know somebody better as well.

Examples:

  • Where is the bathroom?
  • Where did you go on vacation this year?
  • Where is your family from?

What

Out of all of the question words, the word ‘what’ has the most potential uses compared to the others. You can ask about people’s preferences such as their likes and dislikes. You can use ‘what’ in order to describe people, places, and things in greater detail. The physical and character descriptions are easy to make when you ask the question starting with ‘what.’ Lastly, one can inquire about the kind / type of people, place or thing by beginning the question with ‘what’ in order to get more details.

Examples:

  • What does she do for fun on the weekend?
  • What were the Pyramids in Egypt like?
  • What does New York City look like?
  • What kind of person is Jack?

Who

For the question word of ‘who’, you’re always going to be using it to ask about people. You’ll never be using ‘who’ to describe a thing or an object. With ‘who’, you’ll mainly be making object kind of questions as ‘who’ will form the subject and which will also form the answer to this question. The person’s name and/or their personal preferences will be highlighted in the answer to a ‘who’ question.

Examples:

  • Who does Tina like?
  • Who is studying both Spanish and Portuguese?
  • Who went to the post office earlier today to send the package?

Which

The last of the –Wh question words is ‘which.’ While it may be the least used of all English question words, its purpose is quite important. If you’re making a choice between a number of options such as people, things, or objects, you’re going to start this kind of question off with ‘which.’ Additionally, if you’re inquiring about the type or the kind of an object or thing, you will use ‘which’ to understand the specific model or function.

Examples:

  • Which boy did Tim choose for his Kickball team?
  • Which Harry Potter book did you like the best?
  • Which kind of sports car do you want to buy?

How

Not every question word in the English language begins with –Wh and so last but not least, we have the important question word of ‘How.’ When you use this question word, you usually combine ‘How’ with an adjective right after to form the sentence. The main usage of ‘How’ is to ask about the specific characteristics, qualities, and quantities of persons, places, or things. When it comes to discussing a price, a length of time, a frequency of an event, or height / weight measurements; using ‘How’ would be your best bet.

Examples:

  • How old are you?
  • How long was the drive from New York to California?
  • How much does this fruit cost?

In order to use question words, we first must understand and memorize why and how they are used. The functions of each question word are very important to know about. Without a base knowledge of their similarities and differences to each other, it will be much more difficult to form the correct question. These seven question words in English have a lot of overlap but it’s important to know how they are unique as well as how they can best be used to make sure you’re understood.

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