“How are you today?”
“Where are you going to?”
“Which colour should I choose, blue or red?”
Notice the sentences above begin with words highlighted in bold and end with a question mark? These are some of the common questions we ask in our daily lives.
I guess we have heard about the famous “8W’s and 1 H”.
These 9 words are called question words. It might be a little confusing for a non-native English speaker to fathom which word to use when asking a question.
Some words might seem similar in meaning and usage but there are some minuscule differences that learners have to take note. In this article, we will explore the 9 common “Question words” used and specific examples as well as tips will be provided.
Let’s start with “H” or “How”. “How” can be used with a number of expressions.
1. To know more details.
- How are you today? (The person asking wants to know more about your day, if you are fine or not.)
2. To know the outcome
- How was the performance? (The person asking wants to know the outcome of the performance e.g. good or bad.)
3. To know and understand the process
- How do you normally get to your office? (Person asking wants to know what mode of transportation you take or what route you use.)
- How did you arrive at your answer? (Person asking wants to know the method and application you use to get your answer)
4. To know the quantity
Can be applied to countable and uncountable nouns
- How many students are there in the classroom?
- How much flour is needed to bake the cake?
5. To know the amount ($)
- How much for 1kg of apples?
6. How come
(An informal way of asking for a reason)
- How come this unfortunate incident had to happen now?
7. How long
This might mean 2 things. It might be referring to the length of something or the duration.
- How long is the king cobra?
- How long were you away from home?
8. How short / tall
Usually refers to a person’s height
9. How far / near
Refers to distance
- How far/near away is your school from your home?
10. Asking someone’s age
- How old are you this year?
- How young is she?
11. Wanting feedback
- How do you find the new teacher?
“Why” is very simple to use. We associate the word “why” with reason. You want to know the reason so you ask “Why”.
- Why did you mess up my bedroom?
- Why did you cheat on your husband?
Why don’t/Why not
Making a suggestion
- Why don’t we visit Valencia Cathedral next Tuesday?
asking in or at what place or position
- Where are you now?
- Where do you live?
We can also use where in idiomatic expressions.
- Where is this conversation going? (You want to know the objective.)
Where did that come from?
When someone says or does something surprising and it catches you off guard, you say this.
Simply asking about time, day and/or date?
- When were you born? I was born on 30th November, 1988.
- When are you coming to visit? On Friday/Later/In the afternoon/At night/3pm
Asking about choice when there are limited options available to choose
- Which colour is better? Red or blue?
- Which football club do you support? Inter Milan or Chelsea?
This might be a very complex question word.
1. When there are unlimited options to choose from
Opposite to Which
- What is your favourite football club? (We can assume that the number of football clubs that exist in the world is unlimited)
- What is your name? (Likewise, names of people can be assumed to be unlimited)
2. When you want a specific answer
- What is your age? (Specific age) 27
- What day are you are coming to school? (Specific day)Wednesday
- What time is it? (Specific time) – 10:20
- What year were you born? (Specific year) 1999
Which and what are more often than not interchangeable. Generally speaking, you can replace the usage of “which” with “what” and be grammatically correct. However, it doesn’t always work the other way around.
3. What for- asking for a reason
similar to why
- What made you do that for?
Asking what or which person or people
referring to the subject
- Who assassinated the president?
Asking what or which person or people
referring to the object
Note: Nowadays “whom” is rarely used. The word “Who” replaces it.
- Whom were you talking to on the phone?
- To whom do I owe this pleasure to?
Asking about the ownership of an object
- Whose shoes is this?
I hope that I provided you with a comprehensive list of question words and their uses. Good day!