English Wh- Questions: The Beginner’s Guide to Asking and Answering
Questions are a useful part of all languages.
Asking questions helps you figure out where the train station is, what you’re ordering from a restaurant or what time you’re meeting a friend.
In English, one specific type of question is the “wh- question.”
Wh- questions help us understand the world around us.
Why is the sky blue?
Where do elephants live?
What is the most popular food in China?
Best of all, wh- questions help us get to know other people.
What is your name?
Where are you from?
Who is your favorite actor?
Wh- questions make life exciting. They’re also an essential part of learning English, especially as a beginner.
But what are wh- questions? How do you ask them, and how do you answer them?
Read on to learn the answers!
What Are Wh- Questions?
In English, there are many types of questions, but we can look at two main categories: yes/no questions and wh- questions.
These two types of questions will give two different types of answers.
As you’ve probably guessed, a yes/no question gives a “yes” or a “no” as an answer (unless you’re being mysterious and answer with “maybe” or “I don’t know”). Because of this, yes/no questions are considered closed questions because there are usually only two choices for answers.
For example, I might ask you, “Do you want extra anchovies on your pizza?” If you’re like me, you’d answer, “No!”
You could also answer “Yes” or “Maybe,” but I think we can all agree that no one really likes anchovies.
Wh- questions can’t have “yes” or “no” as an answer. Instead, these questions require information. That information could be anything, and that’s why wh- questions are called open questions. The options for answers are limitless.
For example, if I asked, “What do you want on your pizza?” you’d need to respond with the name of a pizza topping. You might answer, “pepperoni,” or “mushrooms” or, God forbid, “anchovies.” But you can’t answer “yes” to this question. It just wouldn’t make any sense!
Why Is It Important to Learn Wh- Questions?
Wh- questions are one of the main ways to ask questions in English.
Asking wh- questions can help you figure out important information about places, people, ideas and things. You can use wh- questions in conversations to find out more about someone, and they’ll ask you wh- questions to learn more about you.
Furthermore, basic wh- questions are highly useful for people traveling to English speaking countries.
Wh- questions can get you directions to an attraction, hotel or restaurant. Travelers can use wh- questions to ask about the price of a souvenir or cool tourist experience. If you’re unsure of something on a menu, you guessed it: use a wh- question!
Practice Wh- Questions Online
Reading about wh- questions doesn’t mean you’ll be able to form them when speaking English. You’re going to need to practice.
Lucky for you, there are many places you can practice wh- questions on the internet.
- Check out this fill-in-the-blank quiz for wh- questions from ProProfs.
- On My English Pages, you can build your own wh- questions after practicing with multiple choice exercises.
- Want a real challenge? Agenda Web has a list of 17 places to practice wh- questions on the internet.
- You can even create your own digital flashcards through programs such as Anki or Quizlet and review them regularly for lots of practice.
English Wh- Questions: The Beginner’s Guide to Asking and Answering
Enough talking about what wh- questions are, let’s learn how to ask them! Check out this beginner’s guide to asking wh- questions.
Forming Wh- Questions
The structure of wh- questions is similar to the structure of yes/no questions. The main difference is that the wh- word is added to the beginning of the question.
After the wh- question word, we have two options. We can invert the subject and the verb, or we can use “Do Support.” Let’s check out both!
Inverting the Subject and the Verb
For inverting the subject and the verb, let’s look at the question “Who is she?”
Start with a wh- word: Who
This is followed by a verb: is
Finally, we place the subject: she
Put it all together and you get the question: “Who is she?”
So, what does it mean to invert the subject and the verb?
Well, let’s look at the question and its answer:
Who is she?
She is my English teacher.
As you can see, the answer statement puts the subject before the verb (“She is”). To form a wh- question, we invert that order, to get “is she.”
If we didn’t invert the order, we’d get “Who she is?” which isn’t correct in English.
Using “Do Support”
“Do Support” means that the verb “do” is placed after the wh- word followed by the subject. The verb “do” can be in either the present or past tense.
For example, let’s look at the question:
What do you want to eat for dinner?
In this case, the wh- word “What” starts off the question, followed by the word “do.” Next we have the subject “you” and then the verb “want.” All extra information (“to eat for dinner”) follows the verb.
We can also change the tense of that question by changing the tense of the word “do.”
The past tense would be:
What did you want to eat for dinner?
For the future tense, simply replace the word “do” with “will”:
What will you want to eat for dinner?
This “Do Support” can also be negative, including the word “not” or the contraction “didn’t.” For example, we might get questions like:
Why didn’t he come to the party?
Who didn’t finish their homework?
What didn’t you like about the movie?
Wh- Question Words
Wh- questions are named for the words that are at the beginning of the questions themselves. Let’s take a look at these words in detail. By the way, don’t be surprised to see a word beginning with an h on this list.
We use “what” to asking about something. Generally, answers to these questions are a noun such as a place, thing or idea.
What is your favorite book?
What time is it?
What do you study at college?
You can also use “what” to ask someone to repeat something if you didn’t hear or understand something:
What did you say again?
To ask about time or date, we use the wh- question word “when.”
When does the movie start?
When did you finish your homework?
When are we meeting at the restaurant?
For a specific time, you could replace “when” with “what time.”
What time does the movie start?
“Where” is the wh- question word that’s used to ask about a location.
For example, you might ask:
Where did you go to school?
Where were you born?
Where is the bar?
Use “who” to ask a question that requires the answer to be a person or multiple people.
Example questions include:
Who is your brother?
Who did you eat lunch with?
Who are your favorite actors and actresses?
“Whom” is a similar word to “who,” but it’s not always used in everyday English.
Technically, “whom” also asks about a person or people, but here they’re the object of the sentence. For example, you might ask:
To whom should we send the letter?
We should send the letter to my mom.
Keep in mind, however, that “whom” is somewhat formal. You can substitute it for “who” in everyday conversation.
“Why” is used when asking for a reason or an explanation. Answers to these types of questions generally include the word “because.”
Why is the stove on?
It’s on because I’m boiling water for pasta.
Why didn’t you come to my party?
Because I was too tired.
When giving someone a choice or asking them about a choice they already made, start the question with “which.”
Which kind of ice cream would you like, strawberry or chocolate?
Which movie did you prefer?
Start a question with “whose” when you want to know about who owns something.
For example, you might ask and answer:
Whose book is this?
Whose dog is this?
That dog belongs to Phil.
While the word “how” doesn’t start with a wh-, it’s included in this list because it acts the same way as wh- question words.
You should use “how” to ask in what way or manner something works or happens.
How did my car get scratched?
How do you cook broccoli?
Further, you can use “how” to ask about the condition or quality of something.
How was your day at work?
How was the movie you watched last night?
How is your cat doing?
Adding an adjective or adverb after the word “how” can also ask for specific information. Here are some of the most common examples:
“How far” asks about distance — How far is the shopping mall?
“How long” asks about time — How long did you cook the turkey?
“How many” asks about a quantity that can be counted — How many rooms are in your house?
“How much” asks about a quantity that can’t be counted — How much water do you drink every day?
Or, you can use “how much” to ask about money — How much did you pay for your car?
“How old” asks about age — How old is your son?
“How come” is an informal way to ask “why” — How come you didn’t come to school yesterday?
Practice Wh- Questions with Example Sentences
Practice makes perfect, or so they say!
Fill in the blanks for each of the following questions with one of the two words in brackets. Write your answers down on a piece of paper. Then, check your answers below.
- “____ is the name of your dog?” [What, How]
- “____ ____ oranges did you buy?” [How many, How far]
- “____ did you grow up?” [Who, Where]
- “____ is your favorite actor?” [Who, When]
- “____ ____ is the movie?” [How come, How long]
- “____ did you study biology?” [Which, Why]
- “____ handbag is this?” [Where, Whose]
- “____ car did you buy?” [Why, Which]
- “____ did you make that?” [How, Who]
- “____ ____ away is the office?” [How much, How far]
- “____ should we send this parcel to?” [Why, Whom]
- “____ ____ is your father?” [How old, How many]
- “____ did you talk to?” [Whom, Where]
- “____ ____ did your jacket cost?” [How much, How old]
- “____ did you buy this house?” [Whose, When]
- “____ ____ you went to university?” [How far, How come]
- “What is the name of your dog?”
- “How many oranges did you buy?”
- “Where did you grow up?”
- “Who is your favorite actor?”
- “How long is the movie?”
- “Why did you study biology?”
- “Whose handbag is this?”
- “Which car did you buy?”
- “How did you make that?”
- “How far away is the office?”
- “Whom should we send this parcel to?”
- “How old is your father?”
- “Whom did you talk to?”
- “How much did your jacket cost?”
- “When did you buy this house?”
- “How come you went to university?”
Now that you’ve learned all about forming wh- questions, you’ll be able to have all types of conversations in English from small talk to job interviews! But don’t stop there: who knows how far your English will take you?