Life is full of questions. Who, what, where, when, why, and how - these simple words hold the key to unlocking information and communicating with people in English.
We ask questions in a variety of situations, such as when looking for directions, wanting to know more about an event, or trying to find out what happened to a friend.
Asking questions is a skill that all of us need to learn. In our native languages, asking questions may seem easy and intuitive. However, in a foreign language, it may seem way more complicated.
So, how do you ask questions in English? The answer is: with the help of interrogative words (also known as question words).
To help you learn how to ask grammatically correct, relevant questions for every situation in English, we’ve covered everything you need to know about English question words in this article.
What are interrogative pronouns/words?
An interrogative pronoun is a pronoun used to ask a question in English. It replaces the noun in a question and is usually the first word in a sentence ending with a question mark.
In English, these interrogative pronouns are also called wh-words because most start with “wh.” The most common interrogative pronouns are:
How to ask questions in English
Now that you know what interrogative words are (aka, question words), you may be asking yourself how to form grammatically correct questions in English.
In English, forming questions follows a pretty simple formula:
question word - auxiliary verb - subject- verb - complement
To illustrate this, here’s a great example of this formula in use: “Who did you see yesterday at the party?”
This formula sometimes implements the additional noun or adjective between the question word and the auxiliary verb. We’ll go over this in detail when discussing each interrogative pronoun separately.
What’s more, not every question you formulate will require you to use the entire formula. So, think of it as a guide rather than a strict mathematical question!
The second formula you can use to form questions in English is without an auxiliary verb:
question word - main verb - subject- complement
For example, in the question “Who ate the cake at the party?” there’s no auxiliary verb.
For now, take a look at the example sentences in the table below.
|Who||hoo||/ˈhuː/||Who are you?|
|What||wot||/ˈhwʌt/||What is this?|
|When||wen||/hwen/||When did this happen?|
|Where||wear||/hwer/||Where are you?|
|Why||hwigh||/ˈwaɪ/||Why are you upset?|
|Which||wich||/hwɪtʃ/||Which dress do you prefer?|
|How||hou||/ˈhaʊ/||How are you?|
“Who” is a word used to ask for information about a person and their identity. This question verb doesn’t have a plural form, so if you’re asking about multiple people, it’ll just be followed by a plural verb instead of a singular one.
The main use cases for this question word include asking about a person’s identity and the performer of an action. The main variation of this question word is “whose,” which is used when asking about the possession of a certain object.
Take a look at these examples:
|Who are you going with?||hoo air yoo goin' wit||/ˈhuː ər ju ˌgoʊɪŋ wɪθ/|
|Who won the game?||hoo won thuh game||/ˈhuː wɑːn ðə ˈɡeɪm/|
|Who gave you this dress?||hoo gav yoo this dres||/ˈhuː ˈɡeɪv ju ðɪs ˈdres/|
|Who was with you at the party?||hoo wuhz wit yoo at thuh party||/ˈhuː wəz wɪθ ju ət ðə ˈpɑːrti/|
|Who is the person you were talking to?||hoo iz thuh purson yoo wuhr tawkin' tuh||/ˈhuː ɪz ðə ˈpɝːsn̩ ju wər ˈtɔ:kɪŋ tuː/|
|Whose car is this?||hooz kahr iz this||/ˈhuːz ˈkɑ:r z ðɪs/|
|Whose pencil are you using?||hooz pen-sul air yoo yoo-zin||/ˈhuːz ˈpensl̩ ər ju ˈjuːzɪŋ/|
“What” is probably the first question word you learn in English. In your first English class, the teacher asks, “What’s your name” to get everyone’s names.
It is a question word used to ask about the identity of a thing or the nature of an action. This interrogative word can also be used with additional nouns to ask more detailed questions about someone or something.
Another use case of “what” is asking about the description of a person, object, or place. In this case, “what” questions need to include the phrase “look like.” It follows the formula:
what - auxiliary verb - subject- look like?
It can also be used in combination with “like” to ask about someone’s character or the nature of a place. The formula, in this case, is:
what- verb "to be" - subject-like?
To illustrate this, take a look at the examples in the table below.
|What is your name?||Wuhts iz yoo-ur neym?||/wɒt ɪz jər ˈneɪm/|
|What are you doing?||Wuhts uh-ree yoo dooin?||/wɒt ər ju ˈduːɪŋ/|
|What ice cream flavor do you like the most?||Wuhts ays kreem flehv-ur duh yoo lahy-k thuh mo-st?||/wɒt ˈaɪs kri:m ˈfleɪvər du: ju laɪk ðə moʊst/|
|What is your favorite TV show?||Wuhts iz yoo-ur fehv-ur-it T-V shoh?||/wɒt ɪz jər ˈfeɪvərət ˈtiːˈviː ˈʃoʊ/|
|What time do you go to work?||Wuhts tahym duh yoo goh tuh wurk?||/wɒt ˈtaɪm du: ju ˈɡoʊ tə ˈwɝːk/|
|What day is today?||Wuhts day iz toh-dey?||/wɒt ˈdeɪ z təˈdeɪ/|
|What does your sister look like?||Wuhts doh-z yoo-ur sis-tur luk lahy-k?||/wɒt dəz jər sɪstər ˈlʊk ˈlaɪk/|
|What does your car look like?||Wuhts doh-z yoo-ur kahr luk lahy-k?||/wɒt dəz jər ˈkɑ:r ˈlʊk ˈlaɪk/|
|What is your city like?||Wuhts iz yoo-ur sit-ee lahy-k?||/wɒt ɪz jər ˈsɪti ˈlaɪk/|
|What is your father like?||Wuhts iz yoo-ur fah-thur lahy-k?||/wɒt ɪz jər ˈfɑːðr̩ ˈlaɪk/|
“When” is a pretty simple interrogative pronoun with just one use case: to ask about the time of an event. In other words, it’s used to ask about a point in time when something happens.
|When are you coming to visit me?||Wen er yoo kuhm-ing tuh vuh-zit mi||/hwen ər ju ˈkʌmɪŋ tə ˈvɪzət miː/|
|When are you coming home?||Wen er yoo kuhm-ing hohm||/hwen ər ju ˈkʌmɪŋ hoʊm, həʊm/|
|When do the holidays start?||Wen duh holidays stahrt||/hwen du: ðə ˈhɑːlədeɪz ˈstɑːrt/|
|When is your yoga class?||Wen iz yur yo-guh klahs||/hwen ɪz jər ˈjoʊɡə ˈklæs/|
|When do you want to go to the cinema?||Wen duh yoo wahnt tuh guh tuh thuh sin-uh-muh||/hwen du: ju ˈwɒnt tə ˈɡoʊ tə ðə ˈsɪnəmə/|
|When will you visit me?||Wen wil yoo vuh-zit mi||/hwen ˌwi:l ju ˈvɪzət miː/|
Just like “when,” “where” is a pretty straightforward question word to use. The main and only use case for this interrogative pronoun is asking about the location of a place, the place of an action or event, or a destination.
Essentially, it’s used to ask about the point in space where something is located. Not much detail to go into here!
|Where are you going on your weekend trip?||weh-r ahr yoo go-in' on yoor weekend trip||/hwer̩ər ju ˌgoʊɪŋ ˈɑːn jər ˈwiːˌkend ˈtrɪp/|
|Where is the bus station?||weh-r iz thuh bus stuh-shun||/ˈhwer ɪz ðə ˈbəs ˈsteɪʃn̩/|
|Where is the Bad Bunny concert?||weh-r iz thuh bad bun-nee kon-sert||/ˈhwer ɪz ðə ˌbæd ˈbʌni ˈkɑːnsərt/|
|Where is this train going?||weh-r iz this train go-in'||/ˈhwer ɪz ðɪs ˈtreɪn ˈɡoʊɪŋ/|
|Where would you like to go on vacation?||weh-r would yoo like to go on vuh-key-shun||/ˈhwer wʊd ju laɪk tə ˈɡoʊ ˈɑːn veˈkeɪʃn̩/|
|Where is Wally?||weh-r iz waw-lee||/ˈhwer ɪz ˈwɒli/|
“Why” is most commonly used to ask about the cause of something or the reason behind it. The answer to a question starting with “why” is usually introduced with the word “because.”
But “why” is a pretty versatile word, and it has a few more use cases, such as:
- Asking for an explanation: Why did you do this?
- Expressing annoyance with something: Why should we pay taxes?
- Making suggestions: Why don’t we hurry up?
- Showing agreement: - Do you want to go to the cinema? - Why not? Let’s go!
|Why did you do this?||hwahy did yoo doo this?||/ˈwaɪ ˈdɪd ju du: ðɪs/|
|Why did the baby throw away its food?||hwahy did thuh bay-bee throw away its food?||/ˈwaɪ ˈdɪd ðə ˌbeɪbi ˈθroʊ əˈweɪ ɪts ˈfuːd/|
|Why should we pay taxes every year?||hwahy should weh pay taxes ev-ree yair?||/ˈwaɪ ʃəd wi ˈpeɪ ˈtæksəz ˈevri ˈjɪr̩/|
|Why are you upset?||hwahy are yoo up-set?||/ˈwaɪ ər ju ˌʌpset/|
|Why don’t we leave now?||hwahy dont weh leave now?||/ˈwaɪ doʊnt wi ˈli:v ˈnaʊ/|
|Why isn’t the train leaving?||hwahy is-nt thuh train leaving?||/ˈwaɪ ˈɪzənt ðə ˈtreɪn ˈliːvɪŋ/|
|Why are they looking at us?||hwahy are they luh-king at us?||/ˈwaɪ ər ˈðeɪ ˈlʊkɪŋ ət əz/|
When it comes to “which,” it’s a quite particular interrogative word. We use “which” to ask for more information about something when there are limited options to choose from.
For example, in the question “Which dress do you prefer?”, we’re asking the recipient of the question about their specific preferences between a given number of options.
“Which” can also be used with “of” when there are other determiners (the, those, your) or pronouns used in the questions. The question “Which of the following features do you use the most?” is an excellent example of how to use this.
|Which ice cream flavor do you prefer? Chocolate or vanilla?||wich ays krim flay-vuhr doo yoo prefuhr? chawk-lit or van-uh-luh?||/hwɪtʃ ˈaɪs kri:m ˈfleɪvər du: ju prəˈfɝː ˌtʃɔːklət ɔːr vəˈnɪlə/|
|Which feature is your favorite?||wich fea-cher iz yoor fey-vrit?||/hwɪtʃ ˈfiːtʃər z jər ˈfeɪvərət/|
|Which pencil is yours?||wich pen-sul iz yore?||/hwɪtʃ ˈpensl̩ z ˈjʊrz/|
|Which of those shirts do you like best?||wich uv doth serts doo yoo lyk best?||/hwɪtʃ əv ðoʊz ˈʃɝːts du: ju laɪk ˈbest/|
|Which of your brothers is married?||wich uv yore broh-ders iz mer-ried?||/hwɪtʃ əv jər ˈbrʌðr̩z ɪz ˈmerid/|
|Which dress is prettier? The blue one or the yellow one?||wich dres iz pret-ee-er? the bloo wun or the yel-oh wun?||/hwɪtʃ ˈdres ɪz ˈprɪtiər? ðə ˈblu: wʌn ɔːr ðə ˈjeloʊ wʌn/|
We use “how” in questions to ask about the way something is done. As an adverb, “how” means “in what way” or “to what extent.”
Here are the main use cases for “how” in questions:
- Asking about the way to do something: How do you bake a chocolate cake?
- Asking about the state of something or a particular experience: How was the movie?
- Asking about a specific measurement: How old is your brother?
- Making suggestions: How about a movie night?
|How are you?||How air yoo?||/ˌhaʊ ər ju/|
|How was the trip?||How wuhz thuh trip?||/ˌhaʊ wəz ðə ˈtrɪp/|
|How do you make lasagna?||How doo yoo make luh-sahg-nuh?||/ˌhaʊ du: ju ˈmeɪk laˈsɑːnjə/|
|How often do you go to the cinema?||How often doo yoo go to thuh sin-uh-muh?||/ˌhaʊ ˈɔːfn̩ du: ju ˈɡoʊ tə ðə ˈsɪnəmə/|
|How far do you live?||How far doo yoo live?||/ˌhaʊ ˈfɑːr du: ju ˈlaɪv/|
|How about dinner at the new Italian restaurant?||How uh-bout dinner at thuh new ih-tuh-lee-un rest-uh-rant?||/ˌhaʊ əˌbaʊt ˈdɪnə ət ðə ˈnju: əˈtæljən ˈrestəˌrɑːnt/|
Learn how to ask questions with videos
If you’ve read any other articles on our English blog, you already know how much we love visual learning! Videos, movies, and songs are one of the best ways to help you memorize vocabulary and learn proper pronunciation.
So, here are some helpful YouTube videos to help you practice your newly gained knowledge on how to use English question words in practice.
- 100 Common English Questions by English with Lucy: A super helpful video that showcases how to form questions using English question words.
- Asking Questions in English by mmmEnglish: A useful resource to fix any grammar mistakes you might be making while formulating questions in English.
- How to Ask Questions in English by Speaking English with Vanessa: Another handy video to review the grammar of forming questions in English.
One who never asks either knows everything or nothing
Knowing how to ask questions in English is essential to communicate properly with others. It’ll help you find your way in difficult situations, ask for the necessary details of an event, or simply have a chat with a friend.
We hope that you’re now ready to use the knowledge on how to use English question words in the real world. And if you’d like to further expand your English knowledge, we invite you to learn English online with us or read other helpful articles on our English blog.